Congress removes Kamat as Gujarat in-charge. Gehlot and 4 young turks take over
In a surprise move, Congress on Wednesday removed senior party leader Gurudas Kamat as party's in-charge of Gujarat and replaced him with former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Along with Gehlot, four new secretaries – Rajeev Satav, Jitu Patwari, Varsha Gaikwad and Harshwardhan Sapkal – have been included in the new team.
Soon after the decision was announced, Kamat released a statement congratulating Gehlot and his new team and thanked Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi for the opportunity given to him. He thanked the Congress leadership for relieving him of all responsibilities indirectly suggesting that he has yet again resigned from the party.
In his statement, Kamat said that he had requested the Gandhi scion to relieve him of all the duties on 3 February – the day the candidates for the Bombay Municipal Elections. “I had asked Congress Vice President Shri Rahul Gandhi to relieve me on 3rd February, the day Congress Candidates were declared in Mumbai and again requested him on 21 February, day of polling in Mumbai. I followed up my request with a letter to Congress President after the Mumbai election results,” read Kamat's statement.
He further added that he met Rahul on 19 April and yet again discussed to be relieved from all party responsibilities and it seems that exactly a week after the meeting, Congress leadership decided to give in to his demands. Kamat continues to be the state-in-charge of Rajasthan and it remains unclear whether he has resigned from that post too.
The veteran Mumbai leader had earlier resigned from the party and active politics in June 2016 after repeatedly being ignored by the central leadership on issues pertaining to Mumbai politics. In a message to his supporters, Kamat had said, “Over the last more than 44 years, I have worked with most of you and served the Congress. For several months now, I have felt I need to take a back seat, to enable others to get the opportunity. I met the honourable Congress president about 10 days ago and expressed a desire to resign.”
However, Congress leadership rejected his resignation calling him “an integral part of the Congress family. Thereafter, desperate attempts by the party leadership paid dividends and Kamat took back his resignation. Sources said that the central leadership assured the former Union minister to agree to some of his demands.
Kamat had been at loggerheads with Mumbai's Regional Congress Committee chief Sanjay Nirupam and had asked him to be removed from the post. In fact, Kamat had publicly chided when Nirupam was appointed as the Mumbai Congress chief. The veteran leader also wanted a say in Mumbai municipal polls and the reason for his first request asking Rahul to relieve him of all duties on the day when the names for the BMC polls were announced.
One of his demands also included removing Maharashtra's general secretary in-charge Mohan Prakash. However, it seems that the central leadership paid no heeds to his demands leading Kamat to take the decision. Kamat was also upset that the party had nominated Narayan Rane as an MLC candidate and considered both Rane and Nirupam as outsiders who were given prominence over other Congress leaders. Both Nirupam and Rane were earlier with Shiv Sena and later joined the Congress.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat Congress leaders are shocked with these developments and claimed that Kamat had put in a lot of work to ensure party's revival in the state. In fact, in December 2016, Kamat informed Catch that the party has already zeroed down on the names of candidates who should be given tickets for the upcoming assembly elections in 2018. In February, he claimed that the list is almost ready and left it to the Gandhi scion to take the final call.
“We had already shortlisted the candidates for most of the seats and even if BJP advanced the polls, we would have been prepared, but Kamat's removal has come as a shock for which we were not prepared for. However, even Gehlot is a seasoned politician and I am sure he would take the party forward,” said a senior leader from Gujarat.
Sources claimed that the party leadership decision to not hold anyone accountable for the BMC poll debacle further angered Kamat who held the likes of Nirupam and Prakash responsible for the mess. Fed up with party not holding anyone responsible, Kamat decided to yet again tender his resignation. This is the fifth time that Kamat had resigned from party posts and it remains to be seen whether he would reconcile with the grand old party one more time.
Meanwhile, Gehlot has been chosen to lead Congress' strategy in poll bound Gujarat for his recent performance in Punjab where he was the head of the screening committee and was given the credit for choosing winnable candidates.
It is interesting that the Congress team of in-charges for Gujarat are all from states that share a border with it. While Gehlot is a former chief minister of Rajasthan, Jitu Patwari is the MLA from Rau in Madhya Pradesh's Indore district. Rajeev Satav, a former Youth Congress president is the Member of Parliament from Hingoli in Maharashtra. Varsha Gaikwad and Harshvardhan Sapkal are both MLAs from Maharashtra, representing Dharavi and Buldhana respectively.