DELHI - Concerned over its lackluster performance
in recent assembly and civic elections, a general
governmental drift and a fast vaporizing growth
story, India's oldest political party - the
127-year-old ruling Congress - is developing a
battle plan ahead of elections in 2014.
part of the strategy, top ministers will devote
themselves to organizational responsibilities and
strengthening the party's core. After eight years
in power, and with governance still its Achilles'
heel, a re-juggling of cabinet portfolios within
the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is
also in the offing, say insiders. Non-performing
ministers and congressmen will come under the
spotlight in the shake-up.
To seek the
root cause of defeats in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and
Goa assembly elections in March, the Congress
tasked senior cabinet minister Vyalar Ravi with
setting up the Antony
committee's report - to be submitted next week -
will set the stage for further discussions on an
organizational shake-up that will form part of
broader efforts to resuscitate the ailing party.
Gandhi scion Rahul also recently conducted
a two-day session with leaders from Uttar Pradesh,
where the Congress suffered an ignominious defeat
despite a high-decibel campaign. After conducting
a post-mortem, the session unveiled a new
managerial/administrative approach for the key
state, which sends 80 parliamentarians to the
552-member Lok Sabha (lower house).
Attempts to address organizational
paralysis in other major states - seen as critical
to the Congress' fate in the 2014 parliamentary
polls - are also underway.
reveal that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is piqued
with the non-performance of "UPA 2", which has
been in power for three years. Factional feuding
and turf wars among regional satraps and the
senior party leaders' constant failure to deliver
are the main reasons for her annoyance. She is
contemplating a major reshuffle soon after the
budget session ends May 22.
Close on the
heels of the party's rout in the state assembly
elections last month, the Congress also suffered
an embarrassing defeat in New Delhi's municipal
elections. Though the Congress has ruled New Delhi
for long, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) wrested control of the trifurcated civic
body, bagging seats even in Congress strongholds.
The Congress' also lost in civic polls in
Maharashtra, where it had forged an alliance with
the Nationalist Congress Party. There a Shiv Sena
Party-BJP coalition emerged victorious.
Infighting among regional leaders is
striking at the roots of the Congress' solidarity,
say insiders. Rajasthan, for instance, is
witnessing a feud between two groups of Congress
members of legislative assemblies over the
replacement of chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
Meanwhile, Punjab Pradesh Congress
Committee (PCC) chief Amarinder Singh has also
come under fire with senior party leaders
demanding that he be booted out and loyalists
adamant he should be retained. In Andhra, chief
minister Kiran Reddy is warring with PCC chief
Botsa Satynarana. In Maharashtra, Union minister
Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister Prithviraj
Chavan, former chief minister Ashok Chavan and
other Congress ministers are busy blaming each
other for the party's humiliating defeat in the
The UPA in Delhi too, is in
the doldrums. Progress on matters of vital
national import like foreign direct investment
(FDI) in civil aviation, which could bring
much-needed succor to the cash-strapped Indian
aviation industry, has stalled for months.
This is not only infuriating foreign
investors but also delaying much-needed reforms.
Similarly, despite the UPA cabinet clearing plans
to allow 51% FDI investment in multi-brand retail,
the government put the move on the backburner
after protests from allies, particularly the
With the UPA in
permanent crisis management mode, and ministerial
posts losing their sheen, some top ministers want
to quit the government and join the party
organization. This isn't unusual for a party like
the Congress where many leaders already hold both
organizational and government posts. For instance,
Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mukul Wasnik, apart from
being senior, are also All India Congress
Committee general secretaries in charge of states.
"With the party going into election mode
next year," confided a senior Congress
functionary, "some senior ministers will be nudged
towards organizational assignments. Such a
scenario will also mean a larger involvement of
Rahul Gandhi in organizational matters."
Apparently, the heir apparent is also
working closely with top leaders on a roadmap for
the party despite the gloom of electoral defeats.
Rahul is keen that young leaders who do
not hold a post in either government or party be
drafted into the organization. Deepender Singh
Hooda and Sandeep Dikshit, known to be close to
Gandhi, are being considered for plum
However, as is
typical of the Congress, a veil of secrecy shrouds
its makeover plans. When quizzed by the media,
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who has
orchestrated many discussions on the party's
overhaul strategy recently, dismissed all such
plans as "routine". Congress general secretary
Rahul Gandhi, too, has not been forthcoming about
his imminent revamp arrangements.
lack of transparency is quintessentially a
Congress trait," says a BJP veteran. "They have
still not learnt the lesson that they need to take
the nation into confidence before deciding on
matters of such importance. Many of their own
people don't know what the high command is
However, Congress leaders are
emphatic that the organizational makeover will be
a long-term exercise requiring multiple state and
Delhi-based inputs. "It is not an overnight job,"
said a senior party worker. "Nor is it going to be
a cosmetic one. We're looking at a holistic and
long-term exercise to fortify the party down to
With senior party leaders
currently caught up with the presidential
elections, it is likely that the shake-up plans
will only gain traction after the Antony Committee
report is fielded. Insiders reveal that Congress
president Sonia Gandhi is keen to take complete
charge of the party turnaround in the wake of
allegations of policy paralysis and incompetence
in the government.
Old timers recall that
such turnarounds aren't new for the Congress. In
the 1960s, late prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal
Nehru drafted the Kamaraj Plan to stem the
influence of resurgent regional parties and
strengthen a weakened Congress. It was basically a
political strategy devised by party veteran K
Kamaraj, chief minister of Tamil Nadu and widely
acknowledged as the "kingmaker" in Indian politics
during the 1960s, to facilitate the Congress'
The plan proposed that all senior
Congress leaders relinquish their posts and plunge
headlong into revitalizing the party. Six Union
ministers and six chief ministers of that time,
including Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram,
Morarji Desai, Biju Patnaik and S K Patil, quit
office to put their shoulders to the wheel of a
massive party overhaul.
In 1964, after
Nehru's sudden death, Kamaraj was elected the
president of the All India Congress following his
success in navigating India through choppy
Neeta Lal is a
widely published writer/commentator who
contributes to many reputed national and
international print and Internet publications.
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