New Delhi, June 19;If Sunday’s shake-up in the Congress organisation has brought down the average age of the office-bearers, the new Council of Ministers definitely looks greyer. But if there is a common thread that binds the two sets of changes, it is the premium the party will now put on elected members.
The 44 new party secretaries — 26 of whom have been freshly inducted — for instance, include at least 15 Lok Sabha MPs and 13 MLAs: some others are ex-MLAs and some are currently active in the youth wings.
Similarly, of the eight Ministers sworn in on Monday, five are from the Lok Sabha, three from the Rajya Sabha. And of the five Lok Sabha members, one is a nine-time MP, two have won five elections, one four, and one three. Of the three Rajya Sabha members, two have been elected to the Lower House in the past.
Departure from the past
A party general secretary told The Hindu: “Rahul Gandhi sets great store by those who can get elected.” The six-month-old vice-president, he added, is also determined to make the new secretaries more accountable: so, in a departure from the past, each secretary attached to a general secretary has been already assigned a State or responsibility.
This is apparently in response to party secretaries complaining to Mr. Gandhi that they are not given much work.
Another key change is the appointment of a relatively young Ajay Maken to head the media department — now renamed the communications department: in addition, the publications and publicity department, till now monitored by Digvijay Singh, has been assigned to Mr. Maken as well for greater cohesion. He has already got down to work: on Tuesday, he held a meeting of all party spokespersons as well as those who are part of the panel that can speak on behalf of the party on TV. The daily meetings that had virtually stopped will be revived, party sources said. Only the eight party spokespersons, it was stressed, can respond on behalf of the party on emerging issues: the TV panellists can only participate in studio discussions.
For the beleaguered Congress, one of its greatest failures over the last four years has been its poor public profile caused as much by the slew of scams as the lack of attention to communication with the public. Mr. Maken, therefore, has his work cut out for him.
Of the 12 new general secretaries, only five have survived from the previous tenure — B.K. Hariprasad, Mr. Digvijay Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Madhusudan Mistry and Mukul Wasnik. But the changes have seen only Mr. Mistry, the rising star, gaining ground, being made charge of Uttar Pradesh and the Central Election Committee, shortly after the party wrested Karnataka back from the BJP: Mr. Mistry was in charge of the southern State. Of the remaining four, three have seen a diminution of their responsibilities while the last, Mr. Dwivedi — once a key figure in the party, along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary — saw a serious decrease in his work. He has exchanged the chairmanship of the media department for behind-the-scenes administrative work.
Mr. Mistry and two of the new general secretaries, C.P. Joshi and Mohan Prakash, are believed in party circles to be Mr. Gandhi’s favourites: the personalities of the three men vary, but all three are good at either spewing statistics or spinning new caste formulas, or both. If Mr. Mistry has Karnataka in his pocket to boast of, Mr. Prakash’s disastrous Kurmi-Muslim formula for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections last year has become a joke in the party. Dr. Joshi was, of course, the Rajasthan chief when the party won the Assembly elections five years ago, but his record as a Central Minister has not been worth commenting on. But the party vice-president evidently enjoys a certain comfort level with all three: in the case of Mr. Mistry, who is also monitoring the panel of candidates for the next Lok Sabha elections, a plus point is that he is not part of any faction or group in the party.
Of course, placing a premium on elected representatives as party office-bearers and ministers could send a positive signal in the party. But whether these changes will yield the results expected, only the next 12 months will tell.