Even as Congress president Sonia Gandhi set off for United States over the week-end for medical treatment along with her son Rahul Gandhi, party units across the country are still recovering from aftershocks of a reshuffle that she initiated last week . The new appointments have brought such disappointment that those shunted out are wondering what were the criteria that were used in removing people. Or more precisely what criteria was used in inducting new office-bearers . Or if any thought had really gone into the exercise ?
While no one seemed to mind retiring aging veterans like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni from routine party work, state units of Punjab , Karnataka and Telengana are surprised by new replacements. Murmurs are being heard particularly loud in southern states about AICC functionaries assigned to manage them. It was felt none of the new appointees were picked because of any merit quotient– the only criteria that seems to have worked in their favour is that they must have either been close to AICC General Secretary K.C. Venugopal or have passed muster of Rahul Gandhi’s close aide K. Raju. Karnataka Congress leaders are particularly upset with the selection of senior leader Gadag MLA H.K.Patil to replace Mallikarjun Kharge as AICC incharge of Maharashtra.
Selection of Patil has become contentious as he is being considered too resourceful for comfort and was reportedly the only Congress candidate for whom Sonia Gandhi had personally campaigned in the last assembly elections(2018).
As for bias in influencing decisions newly appointed in- charge for Telengana Manicka Tagore not only had advantage of working with AICC General Secretary K.C.Venugopal in Karnataka but also has had the privilege of hosting Venugopal in his official accommodation in Delhi for some time– as he being a Tamil Nadu Lok Sabha MP.(Of course it is another matter Venugopal may no longer need his hospitality as he has got elected to Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan and is now entitled to his own Lutyens house).
Which brings to question why Tagore replaced R.C. Khuntia — did he handle Telangana in 2019 Lok Sabha polls ? Apparently it seems performance was not used as a criteria for axing the AICC functionaries. Under Khuntia’s watch the Congress may have won three Lok Sabha seats but it still did not matter. The Congress under the Gandhi siblings is truly like what goes on inside any corporate office–if your boss likes you, you can have kick*** performance and yet could still be rewarded, That’s what happened with Rahul Gandhi’s favourites like Jitnedra Singh and Chella Kumar who drew a blank in Odisha and Goa. They were shifted and given new assignments.
However, one disturbing dimension of the reshuffle is dropping of Asha Kumari , who was in-charge of Punjab . Asha , who at present happens to be the longest serving woman MLA– she is a six term MLA from Himachal Pradesh– was reportedly eased out as a sop to please the ever sulking and restless Navjot Singh Sidhu. Though Asha insists she wants to focus on winning her own assembly election for seventh time in 2022, party sources say Sidhu wanted her out as she was seen as being too close to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and a stumbling block to his plans .
Sidhu , who dreams of being Punjab CM in 2022 assembly elections , now apparently has set his eyes on Punjab PCC post . It is believed Gandhi siblings– more likely Priyanka Vadra– would do anything to retain Sidhu within the Congress fold.It is in this sort of rush to keep those threatening to leave the Congress that new assignments have been handed out. Bhakta Charan Das– who completely destroyed Congress prospects in Kalahandi because of his ill-conceived protests against development — was hurriedly handed Mizoram and Manipur so that he does not leave the party. Ironically he was deemed as an asset by Rahul aide K.Raju.