Political observers also feel these organisational changes may not quell the simmering dissent completely and it remains to be seen whether the country’s grand-old party eventually heads for a split, as those having sought large-scale reforms have been craftily divided — a few have been co-opted, some have been given time to make up their minds and the rest have been left out in the cold.
Several leaders and observers are of the opinion that some old-timers might have been brought back in the organisational fold to counter the ‘Group of 23’, who had written to interim president Sonia Gandhi seeking urgent organisational overhaul, including an active and full-time leadership. But, not many of them were not willing to be quoted for their views, citing the ‘sensitivity’ involved in talking about ‘the family’ matters.
The massive organisational shake-up is also being seen as having a dominant Rahul Gandhi imprint with Randeep Singh Surjewala and Jitendra Singh, both considered to be close to the former party chief, becoming new general secretaries along with the veteran Anwar.
Even the reconstituted ‘Central Election Authority’ has a Rahul Gandhi stamp on it with his loyalist Madhusudan Mistry heading it and Krishna Byre Gowda and S Jothimani becoming its members.
Though several leaders such as Pawan Kumar Bansal and Rajeev Shukla, who are former Union ministers but did not have any significant assignments in the party till recently, have also made a comeback of sorts as AICC in-charges, the party watchers feel the big comeback has been of Singh, Anwar and Khurshid.
Singh, once considered a close confidante of Rahul Gandhi, was dropped by him from the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, in 2018 ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Singh, who has been brought back into the CWC as a permanent invitee, seems to have won back the confidence of Gandhis in the aftermath of Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit from the party. He had also openly backed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi amid rumblings over the leadership issue.
Another interesting inclusion is that of Khurshid as a permanent invitee in the CWC along with that of Jairam Ramesh, who was recently appointed convenor of a five-member committee formed to discuss and formulate the party’s stand on key ordinances promulgated by the government.
Khurshid, known to be among leaders considered close to the Gandhi family, did not have any significant party assignment after his Lok Sabha poll defeat from Farrukhabad. However, his steadfast support for the Gandhi family’s leadership seems to have worked in his favour.
Asserting that there was no urgency to have an elected Congress president, Khurshid had recently told PTI that he “can’t see the heavens falling” for the need of a party chief as Sonia Gandhi was still at the helm and should be the one to decide on the leadership issue.
Khurshid had also said he would not have signed the letter even if he was approached by the group of 23 letter writers. He was also named in the party’s manifesto committee for Uttar Pradesh earlier this week.
Another dramatic comeback to the top echelons of AICC is of Anwar, who has been made general secretary in-charge of Kerala and Lakshdweep.
In 1999, Anwar had raised the banner of revolt against Sonia Gandhi along with party stalwarts Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma on the issue of her foreign origin. Nineteen years later, Anwar returned to the Congress in 2018 after being with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) all along.
After about two years of his return, Anwar has returned to AICC headquarters where he wielded enormous power in the 1990s.
Rasheed Kidwai, senior journalist and writer of the book “24 Akbar Road”, said the three leaders seem to have been brought in as a counterbalance to the letter writers.
“It has been a very crafty act (by Sonia Gandhi). With a single stroke, she has dismantled this whole group of dissenters. The letter writers are now divided into three categories — those who have been co-opted, those who have been given time to make up their minds and the ones who have been left out in the cold,” Kidwai he told PTI.
She has comprehensively outmaneuvered the dissenters, Kidwai said.
Sanjay Kumar, Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, also echoed Kidwai’s views, saying that Singh, Khurshid and Anwar have benefitted from the letter issue.
“At least two of them — Singh and Khurshid — are very strong Gandhi family loyalists. They (Gandhis) would not like to take a chance after the letter and, therefore, have brought in these loyalists whose loyalty cannot be questioned,” he told PTI.
Kumar, however, opined that the move to bring about organizational changes may not quell the dissent completely and Congress was likely to head for a split.
While there are some comebacks in the rejig, a careful balancing act and striking of a conciliatory note is also visible.
On one hand, Azad has been stripped of his post of general secretary, on the other he along with Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada have retained their CWC spots.
Prasada and Wasnik have also got a leg up in terms of responsibilities with the former having been made AICC in-charge of West Bengal and the latter being named to the six-member special committee to assist Sonia Gandhi in organisational matters.
However, many of the 23 letter writers seem to have been ignored and their future remains uncertain.
The likes of Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor and M Veerappa Moily have not been given any assignment, though they many within the party and outside feel these leaders have a wealth of talent and experience behind them and have held charge of important ministries during the UPA rule at the Centre.