Cong gears up for poll campaign, but why are its leaders sul

Jaswinder Singh Baidwan

Akhran da mureed
Staff member
The formation of a 50-member jumbo election campaign committee under Congress President Sonia Gandhi's chairmanship was essentially meant to accommodate a large number of leaders in the coming Lok Sabha election and send out a message of unity.

Instead, the exercise has fuelled resentment among the ranks who are unhappy over the exclusion of several important leaders and the rehabilitation of former chief ministers who, they feel, have been rewarded even though the party was defeated in elections under their leadership.

Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states are particularly irked as they have been kept out while former CMs are on the panel.

Former chief ministers Sheila Dikshit, Ashok Gehlot, Amarinder Singh and Ajit Jogi have been included on the panel even though their leadership came under a cloud after the party's electoral rout in their respective states. This is seen as the first step towards their accommodation in the party organisation in Delhi.

The Congress, under Sheila Dikshit, ended up a poor third in the Delhi assembly election.

The party suffered its worst defeat in Rajasthan under Ashok Gehlot in last year's assembly election while Amarinder Singh failed to unseat the Akali Dal government in Punjab which won a rare consecutive term.

Ajit Jogi was Chhattisgarh's first chief minister, but he made himself so unpopular that the Congress has been in the Opposition for three terms.

If the inclusion of these leader has upset many Congress doyens, the exclusion of several leaders has made others unhappy.

Take the case of Madhya Pradesh: Senior leaders from the state like Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath, Satyavrat Chaturvedi and Jyotiraditya Scindia find a place on the campaign committee, but former MP Pradesh Congress Committee president Suresh Pachouri's name is missing.

The high-profile Law and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal is not on the committee although he has been a member of the government's Group of Ministers on media and is among the United Progressive Alliance government's key spokespersons.

The exclusion of Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath has also raised some eyebrows in party circles. She may not have been an efficient minister, but is a fairly senior leader and has an important place in the party by virtue of being a Dalit woman leader.

Tirath appears to have lost this slot on the campaign committee to former Union minister Kumari Selja from Haryana.

A three-time MP from Kanpur, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal has been kept out even though he has won his seat in Uttar Pradesh on his own steam since the Congress has a negligible presence in this electorally crucial state.

The decision to name Congress President Sonia Gandhi as chairperson of the campaign committee came as a surprise, coming less than a month after the party had announced that its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi would lead the election campaign.

The Congress Working Committee had announced on January 16, 'This meeting of the AICC declares that the 2014 election campaign will be led by Rahul Gandhi.'

Rahul Gandhi also heads the party's election coordination committee.

He has been named co-chairman of the campaign committee, indicating that the transition in the Congress from mother to son is underway.

While Rahul will be the party's key strategist in the coming Lok Sabha election, Sonia Gandhi's message to the party rank and file is 'Main Hoon Na.'

By taking on the responsibility of the campaign committee, Sonia Gandhi has sought to dispel the perception in party circles that she is not in control and has abdicated her duties to her son.

It is also meant to reassure the Congress old guard who feel sidelined after Rahul Gandhi assumed a greater role in the party.

"The committee is meant to placate leaders who feel left out or hurt," a senior Congress leader told "It will help involve members in the elections, impart a sense of purpose and forge greater unity in the party."

Congress leaders explained why when the party announced that Rahul Gandhi would be the party's face in the coming general election last month, it did not necessarily mean he would head the campaign committee.

The ongoing Congress election advertising campaign features a solo Rahul Gandhi, they point out, an indication that he is the party's future leader.

Ajay Maken, head of the Congress's communications department, said since Sonia Gandhi is the party president, it is only natural that she should head the campaign committee.

<"It would be odd if the party president is named a member of a committee headed by the party vice-president," Maken explained.

The 50-member committee includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, several Congress ministers like A K Antony, Sushil Kumar Shinde, P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid, Kamal Nath and Ghulam Nabi Azad.

All AICC office-bearers have also been named on the committee along with the Congress president's political secretary, Ahmed Patel.

Although the commitee is dominated by senior leaders, a number of Rahul Gandhi's nominees have found a place on the committee: Jitendra Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Krishna Byre Gowda, Tushar Choudhary and Anant Gadgil.

Young leaders like Manish Tewari, Randeep Surjewala and Dinesh Gundu Rao have also been included, which suggests that the party has opted for a mix of the old and young, representing continuity and change.

For all the heat generated by the composition and exclusions on the campaign committee, the planning and management of the Lok Sabha election will be handled by Rahul Gandhi and his team. Besides Mohan Gopal and Jairam Ramesh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will play a backroom role in the electoral battle.