Coping with price rise, a slew of scams, crisis in A.P., party top brass is barely living from day to day

The current political crisis has so paralysed the Congress leadership that it is finding it hard to institute the sort of sweeping changes it would like to see in both the party organisation and the government. Coping with soaring food prices, a slew of scams and a first class political crisis in Andhra Pradesh — not to mention the the electoral washout in Bihar — the party brass is barely living from day to day.

More than three weeks after the Congress' 83rd plenary ended, the apex decision making body, the Congress Working Committee is yet to be constituted, the list of All India Congress Committee delegates incomplete with Bihar and Tamil Nadu, among other States, yet to send in their names, and many of the State units without heads.

Amidst all this confusion, speculation has been raging on changes in the Cabinet, with top party sources suggesting that the exercise could take place some time between Makar Sankranti and Republic Day. And the changes in the government and the party would follow each other, as some leaders might be asked to exchange jobs.

But party sources are also saying that with the government at sixes and sevens and despite the desire to go in for a new-look administration, the maximum it might stretch to is to fill vacancies in the government: for instance, with the departure of Prithviraj Chavan for Mumbai, where he has become Chief Minister of Maharashtra, there is a key Minister of State slot to be filled in the Prime Minister's Office. Similarly, Kapil Sibal is carrying the burden of two full-time jobs, Human Resource Development and Telecom — so he could be divested of one of the portfolios.

Earlier, top government sources told The Hindu that the Prime Minister was keen on moving out those he considered inefficient but that he was finding it very hard to do anything, given the current crisis. What is making it harder is that he himself is in the firing line, with the Opposition targeting him for not acting against the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, earlier.

With both the government and the party in crisis, a party functionary told The Hindu, Congress president Sonia Gandhi also wanted things to settle down before she made any change. Party sources added the one person, one post would generally be applied, but not very strictly — so while a minister may not double up as general secretary, he could be made in-charge of a State. In this context, for instance, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's name was taken: Mr. Azad is rapidly emerging as a party troubleshooter, first in Tamil Nadu, a State he is in charge of, and now in Andhra Pradesh, a State he is familiar with as he was once in charge of it.

Meanwhile, the party's energies are being consumed in firefighting — countering the Opposition's efforts to pillory it for the scams, particularly the 2G spectrum matter, calming down its MPs from Telangana, strategising how to neutralise the former Kadapa MP, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, while planning the Jan Jagran Abhiyan and for the five Assembly elections later this year. The government, on its part, is engaged in trying to control food prices, hoping the various enquiries into the range of scams will bring some closure, even as it is working on ensuring that the Opposition attends the budget session of Parliament. For if that is also a washout, like the winter session, the government's very credibility — even existence — will be at stake.

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