New Delhi, December 21: In the wake of the drubbing it received in the recent Assembly elections in the heartland, the Congress is initiating moves to strengthen the party by restructuring the organisation. The leadership is keen to put in place changes in the organisation ahead of the AICC meeting slated for January 17, so that the new team could strategise for the Lok Sabha elections due early next year.
Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan has stolen a march on her colleagues by resigning from the Council of Ministers, offering to work in the party organisation. She has been frequently seen in the media defending the party after the Assembly poll verdict.
Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily has been asked to hold additional charge of the Environment Ministry.
The last occasion Ministers quit to work for the party was in mid-June, when Ajay Maken and C.P. Joshi — now general secretaries — left the Cabinet.
Ms. Natarajan’s resignation on Friday comes against the backdrop of plans to strengthen the party, and amid periodic talk that some Ministers were keen to put in their papers to work for the party.
Speculation reigned at the AICC headquarters on Saturday on whether Ms. Natarajan would be drafted to work at the centre or in her home State Tamil Nadu.
Senior functionaries said the party leadership would prefer Ministers who are Rajya Sabha members to quit to work for the party, as they would not be pre-occupied with their own elections. At present, 12 Congress Ministers are Rajya Sabha MPs, eight of them in the Cabinet: of these, the names of Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes — both of whom are old organisation hands — are once again doing the rounds.
Simultaneously, of the 12 party general secretaries, seven might contest the Lok Sabha polls, and the thinking in the party is that some of them should be freed from party work so that they can focus on their own elections. They include Digvijaya Singh, Madhusudan Mistry, Mukul Wasnik, C.P. Joshi, Ajay Maken, Shakeel Ahmed and Gurudas Kamat. But there are clearly not enough senior people who could replace them, party sources said.
Finally, efforts are also on to get in younger PCC chiefs, a process kick-started by the appointment of 46-year-old Arvinder Singh Lovely as the Delhi State boss. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has had meetings with MoS for Corporate Affairs Sachin Pilot and MP Ashok Tanwar recently, sparking speculation that the two were sounded out on heading the Rajasthan and Haryana units — but party sources said there had been opposition to the idea from senior leaders in the two States.
Ms. Natarajan said in her resignation letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that it had been a pleasure to work with him, but she hoped he would understand that she now wished to return to the Congress organisation to work for the Lok Sabha elections.
“I wanted to work for the party in view of the coming Lok Sabha polls,” she told The Hindu, “and therefore I requested the Prime Minister to accept my resignation.” Ms Natarajan has now sought time with party president Sonia Gandhi.
The resignation of the 59-year-old Ms. Natarajan was accepted on Friday. She said the Prime Minister, in a very gracious letter, wrote: “You have been a valued colleague and I thank you for your contribution to the work of our government… ”