From the G23 rebel camp, the biggest loser is Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has been removed as party general secretary.
New Delhi: Finally, the Congress has reshuffled its organisation. This was long overdue even before the G23 rebellion (as the letter writers are now known). The message is clear: those who have come out as winners are mostly from Rahul Gandhi’s camp—be it Randeep Surjewala, K.C. Venugopal, Ajay Maken and Jitendra Singh. From the G23, the biggest loser is Ghulam Nabi Azad who has been removed as party general secretary. It will be after a long stint that Azad’s name will be taken off from one of the offices at AICC, for whether it was Sitaram Kesri or Sonia Gandhi, the veteran has more or less retained his prominence at the party headquarters. But now it seems as if the search is on for a new “Ghulam” as the party HQ. Other prominent names from the letter writers who have lost out on positions, both within the party and the parliamentary set up, include Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Sibbal, Milind Deora, Prithviraj Chavan and Sandeep Dikshit.
Some of the G23 such as Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasad have been accommodated; with Wasnik being part of the high-profile committee that has been set up to help Sonia Gandhi run the party as interim chief. This was being seen as a concession to the letter writers who had been asking for a full time party chief. In fact, Wasnik’s signature on the letter has perplexed many as it’s an open secret within the party that had the Congress gone in for a non-Gandhi party chief as was suggested by Rahul Gandhi, then RaGa’s choice would have been a toss-up between Wanik and Venugopal.
Another letter writer who gets a post script in the reshuffle is Jitin Prasada, though it seems he has landed a hot potato. Prasada gets to handle West Bengal, a state where the Congress has a negligible presence, but way too many egos. The most prominent being Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary who has recently been made the PCC chief. This is interesting because Adhir Chowdhary is a known Mamata Bannerjee baiter and soothing ruffled feathers will be a key part of Jitin Prasada’s role. It is also intriguing that Jitin Prasada was not part of any of the seven committees set up for Uttar Pradesh recently. Does this mean that the Gandhis are not too happy with his outreach to the Brahmin samaaj in the state?
So mixed signals are being sent. Take Manish Tewari’s case for example. He has been one of the more articulate defenders of the party, both in TV studios and in Parliament. As recently as last week, Tewari’s aggressive stance on holding the government accountable on China found favour with Rahul Gandhi for this reflects the latter’s thinking. But Tewari has been given a very noticeable cold shoulder in the recent round of organisational changes. However, there is a sliver of hope. Will Adhir Ranjan lose his post as leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha after being made PCC chief? If so, will this be given to either Tewari or Tharoor or will the Congress prop another “loyalist”? In any event, this is a decision that will be taken after the monsoon session.
There is also some speculation as to whether Randeep Singh Surjewala will retain his current job as the party’s communication department chief. Certainly, since the genial Surjewala took office, there has been a marked improvement in the briefings and talking points given to the party spokespersons fielded for TV debates. But given the fact that he’s also now the general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, the buzz is that the media department could get a new chief.
Will Sachin Pilot be shortlisted for this post for if there was one thing his bete noir Ashok Ghelot envied about Pilot was his connect with the national media? Or will the party promote someone from the current set up? If that’s the case, then Pawan Khera’s name stands out as the party’s most articulate tele warrior. As a former political advisor to the then Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit, Khera has learnt both the art of political spin and a familiarity with the nation’s media, from editors to beat reporters.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has now been made party general secretary for the entire state of Uttar Pradesh, but her writ runs larger than just that. She is fast emerging as a de facto trouble shooter for Team RaGa as was clear from her role in the Sachin Pilot episode. She has successfully managed to bridge the gap between the Gandhis and the party. It’s a gap that Sonia Gandhi had left to Ahmed Patel and Rahul Gandhi had made clear he was not interested in bridging.
The crucial question remains: when will the post of party chief be filled? For as the letter writers keep pointing out, they have nothing against Rahul Gandhi, but what they were objecting to was the lack of a full-time party chief. At the CWC, they were assured that this gap would soon be filled, but the resolution that followed does not mention a time line for holding the AICC session. More important, it does not state whether the post will be filled by an election or by nomination. If the reconstitution of the CWC is anything to go by, then elections seem remote. Even the pretence of one.
Yet, while the Congress has carried out its reshuffle, the BJP is still at status quo. The party has to fill in the blanks in its high-profile Parliamentary Board which has four vacancies after the deaths of Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley; as well as the elevation of Venkaiah Naidu as the party chief. Two names that are tipped to be accommodated include Bhupender Yadav and Devender Fadnavis. There is also speculation as to who will get the gender vote—will it be the all-time favourite Nirmala Sitharaman? Certainly not Smirti Irani who seems to be relegated on the sidelines—for some strange reason, ever since she wrested Amethi away from Rahul Gandhi. But as they say, the BJP works in mysterious ways.
For all its jibes at the Congress for being a party of status quo, current BJP chief J.P. Nadda is still to put his team into play. He took office in January 2020, but is still working with Amit Shah’s pack. And if truth be told, any reshuffle that takes place will have Shah’s okay. In fact, after becoming the party president, Shah has more or less continued with Rajnath’s team bringing in Ram Madhav, Kailash Vijayvargiya and later on B.L. Santhosh as general secretaries, Rahul Sinha and Sunil Deodhar as secretaries, while Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh and for a brief while, Shivraj Singh were made vice presidents. It was also Shah who made Amit Malviya head of BJP’s IT cell in 2015.
Also pending is a Cabinet reshuffle in the Modi government. For one, will Jyotiraditya Scindia be made a Union Minister ? Though given the fact that the reshuffle, if any, will take place after the Parliament session, it is clear that Scindia will have to work hard to ensure that his candidates get reelected during the state’s bypolls that were to take place by 23 September, but seem to have been delayed till the Bihar elections. There is also speculation as to whether there will be a change at the Finance Ministry, but given the PM’s penchant for sticking by his choices, it seems unlikely. However, there is speculation that another heavyweight Cabinet minister has run afoul of the Prime Minister. Then, there is Himanta Biswa Sarma’s rather intriguing statement that he would not be contesting the 2021 Assembly polls due in Assam. Does this mean he has given up on his dream of being state CM and will be accommodated in the Cabinet? What about Devender Fadnavis who seems to be the flavour of the season, given the fact that he was recently given the crucial state of Bihar to handle?
As a footnote, when parties are as top heavy as both the Congress and the BJP, organisational positions don’t mean very much for real power remains concentrated at the top, specially, when these positions are given by way of nominations not elections.
But, what these reshuffles do achieve is to keep the engine of the organisation humming as loyalists (and sometimes achievers) are publicly rewarded and snubs delivered. In politics, gestures play their own role.