Following up on his repeated public assurances that both the old guard and newcomers would find an equal place in his team, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday set up the party’s new working committee, more than six months after his elevation.

Rahul Gandhi made sure that a large number of Sonia Gandhi loyalists were retained in the new team. At the same time, he also brought in younger faces, especially those who are known to be close to him.

The new committee will hold its first meeting on July 22.

While it was expected that Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former defence minister AK Antony, the former Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and the party’s parliamentary leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge would find place in Rahul Gandhi’s team, others like Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik, Kumari Selja and Anand Sharma have also been named members of the new working committee.

There was talk that Selja could be appointed Haryana Congress president in place of Ashok Tanwar whose removal has been on the cards for several months now. But now that Selja has been made a member of the working committee, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda will be pitching harder for Tanwar’s post.

Young blood

Among the younger leaders who are in the new team include Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitendra Singh, Rajiv Satav, RPN Singh, Gaurav Gogoi and Jitin Prasada. Arun Yadav, who was picked by Rahul Gandhi to head Madhya Pradesh Congress four years ago, is among the younger members of the new team. Yadav was said to be unhappy when he was recently replaced by Kamal Nath as state chief. He should be suitably mollified after this announcement.

Under attack for promoting ineffective leaders like CP Joshi, Mohan Prakash, and Madhusudan Mistry, Rahul Gandhi has shown them the door. Other seniors who found no place in Rahul Gandhi’s team include former general secretaries Digvijaya Singh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Janardhan Dwivedi and Oscar Fernandes. Kamal Nath, who was recently appointed the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, has not been included.

The new Congress president has also chosen to draw upon the experience of its senior leaders, especially former chief ministers. As a result, Oomen Chandy, Harish Rawat, Tarun Gogoi, Ashok Gehlot and Siddaramaiah find a place in Rahul Gandhi’s new team. Virtually all of them are Sonia Gandhi camp followers. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and former chief ministers Virdbhadra Singh and Prithviraj Chavan, however, failed to make the cut.

The new Congress Working Committee includes 23 members, 18 permanent invitees and 10 special invitees.

Though Rahul Gandhi has made piecemeal appointments in the Congress organisation over the past few months, the decision to constitute the party’s highest decision-making body had been hanging fire. This crucial and long-awaited exercise was said to have been delayed because Rahul Gandhi was preoccupied with the recent Karnataka assembly polls and also because the party did not wish to upset anyone and send out any negative signals during such a crucial campaign. But more importantly, Rahul Gandhi had to make sure that the new working committee had representatives from various regions and castes and did not spark internal dissension.

Limited pool

There was all-round agreement in the Congress that Rahul Gandhi had done the best in the circumstances and given the limited talent pool available to him. Since he is still settling into his new job, he could not afford to alienate senior members and had to necessarily accommodate them. Not just that, the Nehru-Gandhi scion needs experienced members to advise him as the younger leaders are still to prove their mettle. It was pointed out that Sonia Gandhi may have stepped down as party chief but she’s not completely out of the picture. “Rahul Gandhi would defer to her if she suggests names of leaders who she believes should be included in the working committee,” remarked a senior Congress leader.

Congress insiders maintained that the working committee announced on Tuesday is, at best, a stop-gap arrangement till Rahul Gandhi gets a better grip on the party organisation. “The real working committee will be constituted after next year’s general election,” observed a senior party leader. “With crucial elections coming up, Rahul Gandhi could not afford to upset the apple cart at this critical stage,” he added.