Cong begins major overhaul, Rahul's fingerprints visible everywhere
After a string of embarrassing electoral defeats at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress high command has finally swung into action, much to the relief of thousands of party workers across India.
Party leaders and workers have been demanding a major overhaul at the organisational level, and fixing some responsibility on those who were not able to either meet the expectations of party workers or the high command.
Having already sacked all-powerful general secretary Digvijaya Singh as the state in-charge of Goa and poll-bound Karnataka, the message was clear: the party high command will no longer hesitate to take strong action against those who fail to perform. Singh was accused by party workers in Goa of not being able to form the government despite emerging as the single largest party. In Karnataka, complaints by party leaders against Singh's style of functioning led to the high command taking the decision.
Similarly, Gurudas Kamat was relieved from all his duties and was replaced by former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot as the state in-charge for poll-bound Gujarat, where the party has been out of power for close to two decades. The 66-year-old Gehlot was rewarded for his stint as the head of the party's screening committee in Punjab – the only state where Congress has been able to form the government since its drubbing in the 2014 general elections.
On Thursday, the party announced some crucial new appointments. Avinash Pande was made the general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan, along with four new secretaries – Vivek Bansal, Ghazi Mohammad Nizamuddin, Devendra Yadav and Tarun Kumar.
Meanwhile, Sunil Jakhar was given the charge of Punjab, Pritam Singh became the state party chief in Uttarakhand and Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha was given the charge of AICC's Human and Legal Rights Department.
A total of 17 new office bearers have been announced. Interestingly, 10 of these are below the age of 50, while the rest are from the backward classes.
Dialogue with state leaders
In order to rejuvenate the demoralised cadres, the party leadership is holding dialogue with leaders of states that are to go to the polls. Sources say party vice-president Rahul Gandhi is holding meetings with 30-40 leaders from various states in batches, to brainstorm about the organisational strategies needed to counter an aggressive BJP.
In fact, Gandhi recently met with leaders from the Northeast to discuss the mass desertions that the party is witnessing in the region. Having lost Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur to the BJP, the party is now hoping to revive its fortunes in poll bound states like Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram, which go to the polls next year.
But, ironically, while the Gandhi scion was holding meetings with representatives from the region, four of Congress's elected representatives joined the BJP in Manipur.
Moreover, following the Election Commission's directive, the party has put its own internal elections on the fast track. Multiple letters have been issued from the party headquarters in this regard.
In a letter dated 13 April, Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi requested all state units to finish its membership drive by 15 May, to ensure that organisational polls are concluded by the end of the year.
“I would like to remind you that under no circumstances the date of enrollment and submission of membership forms will be extended beyond May 15,” Dwivedi wrote.
The EC has set a deadline of 31 December for the party to wind up its internal polls, and submit the names of new office bearers in the first week of January.
It is for this reason that the Congress has appointed Pradesh Returning Officers (PRO) and Assistant Pradesh Returning Officers (APRO) for each of the states, who would oversee the election process, which is one of the priorities set by Rahul Gandhi. The PROs and APROs would then get in touch with their respective Pradesh Congress Committees and finalise the details.
Congress workers are hopeful that this long overdue exercise would rejuvenate the party before the crucial Assembly polls and the 2019 General Elections.
Shakir Sanadi, who has been appointed as the APRO for Goa, is ecstatic that the organisational elections are finally being held. This, he believes, would be a great morale booster for the cadres.
“This exercise would lead to new democratically-elected faces being inducted in the party for various posts. It will help us prepare better for polls in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, among various other states, and also the Lok Sabha elections,” he said.
How the polls will proceed
The internal poll schedule has been divided into five phases, wherein the first phase, ending on20 August, will witness the enrollment of new members.
Electing block presidents will happen during the second phase, which will end on 4 September, while the third phase, finishing on 15 September, will witness the election of district presidents.
In the fourth phase, state chiefs would be elected; a process that will last from 16 September to 15 October.
As per the schedule, the election of the next party president will also be done in this time frame. After the new president is elected, the final phase will end with the plenary session, where elections to the Congress Working Committee will be held in either November or December.
It is to be noted that 12 of the 25 CWC members are elected by AICC members, while the rest are the prerogative of the president. The party's last plenary session was held at Burari in UP in 2010.
However, sources suggest that the appointment of the new president could happen anytime, since the party constitution gives the CWC enough powers to elect a new chief.
Earlier, on 7 November 2016, the CWC had unanimously agreed to let Rahul become the party chief, only if Sonia approved of it.
But after months of speculation, the writing is on the wall: Rahul Gandhi will soon take over as the party president, which reflects in the changes that have been brought in the AICC.
It remains to be seem whether these multiple exercises would pay dividends in taking on the BJP, which is aggressively spreading its influence to what were once considered Congress bastions.
But for the moment, Congress workers are hopeful of regaining lost ground in the days to come.