Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge sent a tough message to his party colleagues on Sunday at the first meeting of the Steering Committee, the highest decision-making body of the party when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) ceases to exist. A plenary in February 2023 is scheduled to elect a new CWC, but Mr. Kharge acted with alacrity to make some critical appointments to keep organisational work on track in the meantime. He has asked colleagues to spend time in the States that they are tasked with. New faces are now in charge of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the only two States where the party is in power. With Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot making it clear that, far from vacating the post for Sachin Pilot, he would in no manner accommodate his younger colleague, Mr. Kharge and the new person in-charge have a tough task at hand. A new general secretary has been given the charge of Chhattisgarh. A new member has been added to the Steering Committee, which contradicts the earlier position of the party that only the members of the outgoing CWC could be in it. Shashi Tharoor, who received 10% of votes in the election of party president, was not included in the Steering Committee by the party, citing this reason, which no longer seems valid.
The party has its task cut out going into the plenary in February and then preparing for three crucial Assembly elections in 2023, in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Congress is in direct contest with the BJP in these States, and had won all three in 2018, though Madhya Pradesh was lost after its MLAs defected to the BJP. Party leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has attracted impressive crowds but the party by its own admission is not expecting any electoral bump from it. Its electoral fortunes will largely depend on how quickly and effectively it gets the organisation battle ready, from the ground up. The Congress has the advantage of strong and influential leaders in all three States; its challenge lies in keeping these leaders united in spirit and in purpose. The Congress, as of now, appears to be in a position to give the BJP a spirited fight but it needs to keep its house in order. Central leaders in charge of States play a crucial role in candidate selection and managing various interest groups. The party will have to tread carefully if it is to ensure changes that can be rewarding, and avoid disruptions that can ruin its prospects.