Dharmendra Jore: Can Congress reap maha benefit from Maha restructuring?

By  Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai | Posted  08-May-2017

As the Congress shuffles its set-up in Gujarat and Rajasthan, there are omens of similar restructuring in Maharashtra well before the state goes to poll in 2019

All eyes are on Rahul Gandhi now. They say that the Congress's incumbent vice-president is expected to be elevated to party chief very soon. The Congress is undergoing revival as far as restructuring the organisational set-up is concerned. The process has started and should gain momentum in the coming months, in states such as Maharashtra, where change is much in demand.

Two BJP-held states, Gujarat and Rajasthan, have been given new general secretaries in-charge with a stamp of approval from Rahul, who has been commanding the party in the absence of his mother. The recent restructuring has brought some cheer to the cadres in Maharashtra because of the induction of local leaders in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Nagpur's Avinash Pande, an ex-MLA and ex-Rajya Sabha member, will be steering the Congress in Raje's Rajasthan. Sitting Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Rajiv Satav, and MLAs, Varsha Gaikwad and Harshvardhan Sapkal, have been asked to assist general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot. Pande is a veteran who hasn't really succeeded in electoral politics after showing initial sparks. But his prolonged stint in Delhi's Congress circles has won him the leadership's trust. On the other hand, Satav, Gaikwad and Sapkal fit Rahul's definition of young blood, as they are below 50 years of age and they successfully defied the Modi wave to win their seats.

A common factor in the revival process is Mumbai's strongman Gurudas Kamat, who was replaced as in-charge of the two states, following his request to be relieved of party positions. Kamat's request came after a falling out with leaderships in Maharashtra and New Delhi. He does not want to be politically active as of now, but may return at a more suitable time. It's a good omen for his team that the Congress high command hasn't disowned Kamat as yet, indicating they are waiting for him to savour a break before they give him some important role.

Maharashtra next?
Changes in poll-bound Gujarat and Rajasthan should augur well for an overhaul in Maharashtra as well. Gujarat Assembly elections are slated for November-December this year, and Rajathan will vote exactly a year after the PM's parent state. Six months after Rajasthan's new Assembly sits in, the country will go to vote in the Lok Sabha polls. And six months after Parliamentary elections, the BJP in Maharashtra will make an attempt to regain power. Will structural changes, if made in time, help Congress tide over its crises here?

Well, if Congress can plan for Rajasthan almost two years in advance, why shouldn't the cadre expect changes in Maharashtra? General secretary in-charge Mohan Prakash has survived many a disaster and opposition from within the party for long. Prakash continues to be in the seat for more than five years, reportedly because of Rahul's fondness for him that people in the Congress, who have a deep contempt for the socialist's non-Congress past, have failed to understand. Most Congress leaders in Maharashtra are gunning for Prakash's head. There have been frequent instances in which Maharashtra leaders told Prakash to not teach them lessons in loyalty to the Congress. On one occasion, Prakash was manhandled by angry workers in Mumbai.

Heads will roll
If Rahul is not yet willing to replace the in-charge, the Congress workers expect a replacement for Mumbai president Sanjay Nirupam sooner or later. Nirupam resigned after meeting his Waterloo in the BMC elections. He may want a new lease of life, but he was told that being a caretaker, he should be ready to accept a new leader who may or may not suit his politics.

Sources say that the party may fall back, yet again, on a family that is synonymous with Congress in the country's financial capital. No wonder then, if Rahul asks Milind Deora to take charge. Will a less tumultuous state unit see incumbent chief Ashok Chavan too going out? Especially when an angry Narayan Rane is baying for the ex-CM's blood, and the party is trying to neutralise the former Shiv Sainik's threat of defecting to the BJP. Replacing Chavan with Rane, or any other leader - we're told Satav was in the reckoning for state chief's post before being sent to Gujarat - should be a tough call for the Congress, because the ex-CM has built up a collective attack, in association with the NCP, on the BJP government.

The Congress has been amplifying public outrage with some degree of success despite Sena playing a major rival to its ruling partner. In this achievement, a depleted Congress should see a glimmer of hope amidst successive electoral defeats.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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