New Delhi: The representation of women in all wings of the Congress organisation will be increased to 50 per cent over the next two to three years, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi told newly appointed office-bearers, in his first over two hour-long interaction with them on Saturday after the new team was constituted ahead of key Assembly elections – in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi – later this year and general elections in 2014.

Mr. Gandhi’s promise is an ambitious one, coming as it does at a time when just four of the Congress Working Committee’s 22 members, including party president Sonia Gandhi, one of its 12 general secretaries and five of its 44 secretaries are women.

The four women on the CWC are Ms. Gandhi, Ambika Soni – who is also the only woman general secretary — Hemo Prova Saikia and Sushila Tiriya. Asha Kumari, Priya Dutt, Geetashree Oraon, Prabha Kishore Taviad and Dr. Vijay Laxmi Sadho are the female party secretaries.

The vice president sought to make a distinction between representation and reservation. “Mr. Gandhi talked about how to ensure 50 per cent representation,” spokesperson Bhaktacharan Das told journalists after the meeting, “to women in AICC... It’s not about reservation… It’s about their representation.”

When he observed that their (women) presence is not in the proportion it should be, he said it will definitely be 50 per cent in the coming two-three years.

Those – particularly the general secretaries and secretaries — who had been given specific responsibilities, Mr. Gandhi once again said, will be held accountable. And while the average age of the new office-bearers has fallen, with the average age now 52, the vice president also underscored the need for the younger members to accord their seniors respect and take advantage of their experience. Mr. Gandhi’s exhortation to the younger office-bearers is being read as assurance to the old guard who are worried that their days are numbered.

Mr. Gandhi, who has always laid emphasis on strengthening the party organisation rather than depending on coalition partners, once again invoking Mahatma Gandhi, spoke of the need to connect the party to the masses. Party leaders were told to direct their energies on making the party a cohesive fighting machine again. Indeed, the subject of alliances was not discussed at all in the meeting. Neither was there any mention of any other party or leader during the interaction session.

The meeting with all the general secretaries and secretaries comes in the wake of Mr. Gandhi’s one-on-one discussions with the general secretaries.

Asked whether Mr. Gandhi’s handling of organisational matters meant that he, rather than Ms. Gandhi, was now running the party, Mr. Das told journalists that she remained the Congress president, the party’s “topmost” leader, respected by all.

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