In a bid to strengthen the Congress in Opposition-ruled Punjab and Karnataka, party president Sonia Gandhi replaced the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) presidents in the two States on Tuesday, naming the former Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, and ex-Karnataka minister G. Parmeshwar to these key posts.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Ramesh Chennithala and Bhubaneshwar Kalita have been retained as the PCC chiefs of Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Assam respectively.

Of the 18 new PCC chiefs whose names were announced, only three are new faces, an indication that neither Ms. Gandhi nor her party intend to go in for drastic changes in the current round of organisational elections leading up to the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) session slated for November 2 in Delhi, culminating in the plenary session to be held before December 20.

Interestingly, of these 18, seven States and Union Territories chose the election path — Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Lakshadweep. Curiously, even in these seven where elections were held, only in one, Nagaland, have the elections produced a change, with S.I. Jamir defeating incumbent I. Imkong. The other 11 States had asked Ms. Gandhi to nominate their PCC chiefs.

Of the remaining States and Union Territories whose PCC chiefs are yet to be announced, only Sikkim has chosen to have elections. Oscar Fernandes, member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in charge of these elections, told The Hindu: “I hope the remaining will be announced at the earliest.” However, he said he would not be able to say whether all the names would come before November 2.

In West Bengal, where State elections are scheduled for next year, Manas Ranjan Bhunia — who replaced Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee some months ago and is known to be close to him — will continue as PCC chief.

In Punjab, where elections are due in 2012, the party hopes that Mr. Singh, who was Chief Minister from 2002 to 2007, and who replaces Mahendra Singh Kaypee, a Dalit leader, will be able to revive the party there.

“He is the tallest Sikh Jat leader in the State capable of taking on the Akalis, currently in the throes of a family feud,” party sources said.

Mr. Parmeshwar replaces R.V. Deshpande in Karnataka, the only south Indian State where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power. He is a Dalit leader, a former Special Invitee to the CWC, and a medical doctor — and his appointment, sources said, marks the return of party loyalists to key positions in Karnataka. Both Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah and the Youth Congress chief in the State, like Mr. Deshpande, are ex-Janata men.

J.P. Agarwal of Delhi, Kaul Singh Thakur of Himachal Pradesh, B.B. Bahal of Chandigarh, A.V. Subramaniam of Puducherry, and Yashpal Arya of Uttarakhand are among those who have been retained as State unit chiefs.