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Rahul Gandhi Needs to get Congress House in Order Before the Big Battle in 2019

Rahul Gandhi could face trouble in keeping the organisation in shape ahead of the Lok Sabha polls if he fails to make suitable changes at the right time. And time is of great essence here. And time is fast is running out.

Venkatesh Kesari |

Updated:May 30, 2018, 11:16 AM IST
Rahul Gandhi Needs to get Congress House in Order Before the Big Battle in 2019
File Photo of Rahul Gandhi (PTI Photo/ Ravi Choudhary)

New Delhi: With the 2019 general elections just 12 months away, Congress president Rahul Gandhi faces the unenvious task of throwing a strong challenge at the Modi-Shah duo even as he attempts to strengthen his grip on the party.

A general before facing the enemy fire has to ensure unity and instill a sense of purpose in his rank and file.

Recent organisational rejig cleared by the Congress chief are drawn from the age old and tested precepts of team-building. If the young and the old, the fresh and the experienced, and the energetic and the wise are not taken alongside — the road ahead could be perilous.

There is a method in the structural changes being taken under the new dispensation. Rahul is reconstituting the Congress organisation in a piecemeal manner with a clear objective to sideline seniors broadly known as Sonia Gandhi loyalists. Concomitantly, he is seen to be promoting those who are loyal to him. But the timing of entire transition undertaken just ahead of Lok Sabha polls is something which has raised many eyebrows within.

This exercise is making a large section of the party passive. This growing section within finds itself at sea, with Sonia Gandhi handing over the baton to the son. They have no space to maneuver in Rahul’s Congress.

Though nobody is questioning the party president’s decisions openly, a murmur has already begun in ahead of the big battle as Congress is facing twin challenge from the BJP and regional parties.

After abolishing the post of political secretary to the Congress president, Rahul has given important positions to K C Venugopal, Gaurav Gogoi, Jitendra Singh, Rajeev Satav, RPN Singh, Avinash Pande, Dipak Babaria, P L Punia, Oomen Chandy, R C Khuntia, Dr A Chella Kumar, Anugrah Narayan Singh and Rajni Patil. These leaders have been given charge of important states.

Although Rahul has maintained a status quo with regard to the states allotted to Ghulam Nabi Azad (Uttar Pradesh), Mohan Prakash (Maharashtra),Mukul Wasnik (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Lakshadweep), Ambika Soni (Jammu and Kashmir), Asha Kumari (Punjab and Chandigarh), P C Chako (Delhi), he has lessened the organisational responsibilities of his loyalist Dr C P Joshi.

Senior leader Kamal Nath is holding two positions. He is AICC general secretary in-charge of Haryana and also Madhya Pradesh Congress president.

Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil has been made in-charge of Bihar where the Congress is completely relying on the RJD led by Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Interestingly, Oomen Chandy and Gaurav Gogoi and Gohil are said to be keen in working in their home states—Kerala, Assam and Gujarat—as PCC chiefs.

A former Congress Working Committee (CWC) member who had won several Lok Sabha elections feels the current exercise is aimed to convert the AICC into the Indian Youth Congress. “Do not expect any magic form Chandy, Jitendra Singh, Khuntia in Andhra, Odisha and Telangana as Assembly elections in these states will be held together with the Lok Sabha polls,” he pointed out.

Gaurav Gogoi and Rajeev Satav are too junior to handle important states like West Bengal and Gujarat independently. Both are first time Lok Sabha members and have only had the experience of working in the Youth Congress.

While BJP chief Amit Shah is confident of improving BJP’s tally in West Bengal, Gujarat has been the Hindutva laboratory for the BJP for over two decades. Besides, the Congress is sharply divided in West Bengal on whether to have a pre-poll alliance with the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress or an understanding with the Left front.

In Uttar Pradesh, Ghulam Nabi Azad will have no role to play as the party is completely depending on the alliance of Samajwadi Party and the BSP. “If they (Akhilesh-Mayawati) leave 10 seats to us of the total 80, it is more than sufficient,”said a former Union minister.

Interestingly, Azad is the only old guard the Congress has involved in the crisis management. He has held talks with the DMK on seat sharing in Tamil Nadu, with the Janata Dal (S) on pre-poll alliance in Karnataka and he can bring Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress party back to the Congress if gets a free hand. This can help the Congress in Andhra Pradesh to some extent.

Uttar Pradesh (80 seats in the Lok Sabha), Bihar (40), Tamil Nadu (39),West Bengal (42), Andhra Pradesh (25), Odisha(21) have been the difficult states for the Congress where the party has been losing elections while the electoral battle in Maharashtra (48), Madhya Pradesh (29), Chhattisgarh (11) will not be easy.

Team Rahul has been lacking crisis managers, mass leaders and heavyweight caste leaders. But he is finding it difficult to explain his short-term strategy and long-term game.

Seniors who have succeeded in retaining their positions in the organisation know very well that their roles will be limited. They were not replaced because the new leadership could not find suitable substitutes.

Rahul could face trouble in keeping the organisation in shape ahead of the Lok Sabha polls if he fails to make suitable changes at the right time. And time is of great essence here. And time is fast is running out.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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