New Delhi: Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge seems to have settled into his new role. In his first appointments after assuming the post, he named a dissenter as the party's new chief in Bihar and relieved a close aide of Rahul Gandhi.
Kharge appointed Rajya Sabha member Akhilesh Prasad Singh, a member of the now defunct group of 23 Congress dissenters, known as G-23, as the party chief in Bihar.
Singh, 60, and others had in August 2020 written a strongly-worded letter to the then party chief Sonia Gandhi seeking internal reforms, elections from top to bottom in the organisation and active and visible leadership.
The grouping is non-existent now as some of its key movers such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal and Jitin Prasada have since quit the Congress.
Singh is a Bhumihar, an influential upper caste in Bihar. A former union minister of state for food and consumer affairs in the UPA-I government from 2004-09, he had quit the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and joined the Congress in 2010 ahead of the Bihar assembly elections. He replaced Brahmin leader Madan Mohan Jha.
Singh was close to late Congress strategist Ahmed Patel and later Azad but had never been in the good books of Rahul Gandhi.
Many in the Bihar Congress were of the view that the party would henceforth function from RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s residence and not from Sadaqat Ashram, the Congress headquarters in Patna.
In other changes, Kharge relieved Ajay Maken as the general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan.
Maken, considered close to Rahul Gandhi, had submitted his resignation to Kharge in protest against the inaction against Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s loyalists who had defied the party high command by boycotting the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting in Jaipur on September 25.
It remains to be seen if Maken will be accommodated in a new role in Kharge’s team.
In his place, former Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has been named the new in-charge of Rajasthan.
Kharge also brought in senior Dalit leader Kumari Selja as the new general secretary and gave her the charge of Chhattisgarh in place of PL Punia. Selja, 60, is a known detractor of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, another G-23 member.
He also handed over the charge of Haryana to Shaktisinh Gohil, who already is looking after the party affairs in Delhi.
By making these changes, Kharge wants to dispel the perception that he was a rubber stamp or a puppet and someone who will be remote-controlled. The new Congress president has tried to send a message that he was now firmly in the saddle and would like to have his own team in place.
The changes came a day after Kharge had also talked tough at the first meeting of the party’s steering committee, which replaced the Congress Working Committee (CWC), on Sunday.
At the meeting, he issued a stern warning to the non-performing functionaries to fall in line or make way for new leaders. “Those who are unable to fulfil responsibility will have to give a chance to new colleagues,” he told the office bearers.
“Have you visited the states under your charge for at least 10 days in a month? Have you visited every district and discussed with party leaders about the local issues? Have all the district and block committees been formed? How many times have you taken out agitations at the block, district, and state level as called by the AICC (All India Congress Committee) on important issues?” he asked them.
Kharge insisted that accountability in the party from top to bottom was paramount. “Only if the Congress organisation is strong, accountable, and lives up to the expectations of the people, will we be able to win elections and serve the people,” he said.
The meeting further decided to hold the three-day plenary session in the second half of February in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, to ratify Kharge’s election as the Congress president and also hold the polls for the all-important CWC after over two decades.