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The appointment on Sunday of senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath as general secretaries of election-going States heralds the restructuring of the AICC set-up, with names of other new office-bearers likely to be announced over the next few weeks. But, party sources pointed out, it also meant that the new party functionaries would be a mixture of old and new faces — it would not be a clean sweep of the old guard.
These sources added that the changes are being made before the elevation of Rahul Gandhi — as president or working president — in all probability, later this year, ahead of the Assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh slated for early next year. This is so that whatever unhappiness there is with the changes will be absorbed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
After the new set-up takes formal shape, a source close to Mr. Gandhi told The Hindu, that the Congress Working Committee — now almost defunct — will meet regularly to promote collective decision-making. In addition, he said, an informal Political Group, headed by Mr. Gandhi, would be formed to respond swiftly to political developments.
Referring to the mix of the old and young, this source said: “People have a wrong notion that Rahulji does not like old people: he knows that with age comes experience that is necessary for the party. Look at the way he stuck with Tarun Gogoi in Assam, even though he was in his third term as Chief Minister.”
Indeed, with the Congress reeling from crisis to crisis in the last two years since it was reduced to double digit ignominy in 2014, it is the old guard that has been deployed whenever there has been a major crisis.
On Monday, when the 67-year-old Mr. Azad came to the Congress headquarters, he was mobbed by party workers, largely from Uttar Pradesh, who had arrived in large numbers. Even party activists from other States said the appointment of the two ‘dhurandhar’ (heavyweight) leaders was a sign that things would improve in the days to come: indeed, the two men appeared to have, at least, pumped in some energy into the party.
As for Mr. Kamal Nath, who is taking the brunt of the Aam Aadmi Party’s criticism that he was involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the party is defending him fully. On Monday, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, responding to questions on the subject, said from the party’s official platform: “From 1984 to 2005, Kamal Nath’s name did not figure in any of the half a dozen commissions set up to investigate the 1984 riots. In 2005, when the Nanavati Commission was set up during the NDA rule, a journalist testified that Kamal Nath had been present at one place, but he was controlling the riots. The Commission thereafter concluded ‘Therefore it would not be proper to conclude that Kamal Nath instigated the riots’. ”
After the spate of exits from the party, the last that of former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, the party now appears to have closed ranks to defend its own.
In recent months, both Mr. Azad and Mr. Kamal Nath have been unofficially used to deal with party matters: if the latter was sent to Assam in the latter part of the State elections earlier this year to help retrieve the situation, Mr. Azad is, as a party activist put it, the “Congress’s trouble-shooter, the go-to person for crises” — it was he who had stitched up the alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu for the recent polls there. Now, both men have been given formal positions.
Interestingly, while Mr. Azad is the longest serving member of the Congress Working Committee, Mr. Kamal Nath is the seniormost MP in the current Lok Sabha, having won the maximum number of terms. Evidently, it is felt that men such as these will help ease Mr. Gandhi into his new job, whenever he takes over.