As the Congress gets battle ready for 2014, it revamped its organisational team on Sunday, 24 hours ahead of a ministerial reshuffle, scheduled for Monday evening. All eyes are now on who will replace in government Union Ministers Ajay Maken and C.P. Joshi, who resigned on Saturday night, and were among the seven new general secretaries appointed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The key portfolios of railways, surface transport, urban poverty and alleviation, chemicals and fertilizers are now up for grabs as are five MoS slots, the last left vacant by the DMK when it quit the UPA.
The new general secretaries include two with strong organisational credentials — former Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni (who will now be in charge of the Congress president’s Office as well as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand) and former Union Minister and one time Youth Congress president Gurudas Kamat (who will oversee Gujarat and Rajasthan). The other three are Luizinho Faleiro, the Christian face that replaces Oscar Fernandes as a general secretary, Mohan Prakash and former MoS for Home Shakeel Ahmed: before these changes, Mr. Faleiro, Mr. Prakash and Mr. Ahmed were all in-charge of States.
The 49-year-old Mr. Maken’s replacing the 67-year-old Janardan Dwivedi as head of the party’s media committee — rechristened as the communication, publicity and publication unit — is one of the more significant appointments: it heralds a generational shift, as this is a key job — Priya Dutt will assist him as party secretary.
Besides, Mr. Dwivedi, who made the announcements on Sunday, will now be in charge of AICC meetings, AICC departments, CWC organisation, organisational elections, sessions and coordination, indicated he would be exchanging his high-profile job for a back room one.
The changes, taken in their entirety, are incremental, with the average of the Congress Working Committee members having dipped only to 52.
Mr. Gandhi as Vice-President will now hold charge of all frontal organisations, and the two new secretaries attached to him will be Prabha Kishore Taviad and Suraj Hegde. Ms. Taviad, an Adivasi MP from Dahod, hit the headlines last year when she accused the Gujarat police of roughing her up and abducting her to prevent her from attending Gujarat Divas celebrations. When she raised the issue in the Lok Sabha, there was demand for action from across the House, with even Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj promising to take it up with Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Mr. Hegde is former Karnataka Chief Minister Devaraj Urs’ grandson, who has been closely involved with the democratisation process in the Youth Congress in the south.
Four general secretaries, Vilas Muttamwar, Birender Singh, Oscar Fernandes and Ghulam Nabi Azad, have been dropped. Of the four, Mr. Azad, who is also Union Health Minister, had asked to be relieved of organisational responsibilities because of poor health, while either Mr. Singh or Mr. Fernandes could, party sources said, figure in the ministerial reshuffle.
The secretaries attached to Mr. Gandhi — Jitendra Singh, Meenakshi Natarajan and Shanimol Osman — have all been dropped. While Mr. Singh is an MoS with independent charge of Youth and Sports, Ms. Natarajan, party sources said, might be included in the ministry on Monday — she belongs to an election going State, Madhya Pradesh.
Of the eight independent in charge, three have been made general secretaries and five have been dropped: they are Mohsina Kidwai, Jagmeet Brar, Jagdish Tytler. G.S. Charaj and D.R. Shandil. Ms. Kidwai had asked to be relieved of her responsibilities because of her advanced years and Mr. Shandil has become a Minister in the Himachal Pradesh government.
But the most significant exclusion is that of Mr. Tytler — the Congress, party sources said, wants to signal that it wants to distance itself from the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
Digvijaya Singh continues as general secretary, but he takes charge of Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka instead of the key State of Uttar Pradesh, now given to one of Rahul Gandhi’s current favourites, Madhusudan Mistry: Mr. Mistry will also be in charge of the Central Election Committee. Party sources said this means that Mr. Gandhi would be “back seat driving” Uttar Pradesh and the all-important CEC. The two other RG favourites in the list are Dr. Joshi, who has been given Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Mr. Prakash, who will oversee Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, despite his not too shining record.
Motilal Vora remains treasurer, and Ahmed Patel is still Ms. Gandhi’s Political Secretary, as Mr. Dwivedi, Mr. Digvijaya Singh, B.K. Hariprasad and Mukul Wasnik continue as general secretaries. Of the party secretaries, almost half have been swept out.