NEW DELHI: The Congress is set for a major reshuffle with several senior ministers writing to party President Sonia Gandhi saying they want to be relieved of their portfolios and work for the party. The ministers include Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Law & Justice and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi.
Even though Ramesh and Khurshid are not grassroots leaders, but they are important for fine-tuning the Congress's election strategy. In 2004, Ramesh's aam aadmi slogan struck an emotional cord with the electorate and helped the UPA in defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. There is a growing view within the Congress leadership that the party needs to go back to similar slogans and some big ticket announcements are needed.
Ramesh had quit as minister in 2008 before the Lok Sabha elections. He has handled the Congress election manifesto and could be a very important person when next Lok Sabha election takes place. A Cabinet reshuffle is also expected after the Budget Session if the senior ministers are brought back into the party.
Several leaders have said that more people friendly schemes need to be announced if the party wants to return back to power in 2014. The move to strengthen the party may coincide with the UPA-II completing three years in power on May 22.
The senior leaders could be replaced by younger MPs in the Union Ministry. The younger MPs may get important portfolios and the organisational structure may be changed to give the experienced leaders more responsibility.
Though Vayalar Ravi said that he had not written any letter to Sonia and denied the reports; sources told CNN-IBN that Sonia Gandhi is planning to revive the party even at the cost of weakening the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government. The plan to revive the Congress has been taken following the initial report of the AK Antony Committee which looked into the reasons for the party's extremely poor show in the recent Assembly elections in five states. The final report, which will be submitted to Sonia Gandhi by end of April, points out that a weak organisation was the main reason behind the party's rout.
Sonia Gandhi had set up the Antony Committee with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde as the two other members following the Assembly elections rout, particularly to study the Congress's show in Uttar Pradesh where Amethi MP and General Secretary Rahul Gandhi had worked very hard and almost made it a prestige issue.
Sonia is also livid at the conduct of Congress MPs from the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, who defied the party leadership and disrupted the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the first day of the second half of the Budget Session. At the Congress core committee meeting where the decision to suspend eight Congress MPs from Telangana was taken there was a view that a wrong signal would go out if the if party was not able to control its own MPs in Parliament.
Facing criticism for policy paralysis, spiralling price rise and corruption scandals the Congress leadership has decided to crack the whip after coming to the conclusion that UPA-II was going downhill and the party needed to reinvent itself before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There is a growing feeling within the Congress that the next Lok Sabha elections could be held much before 2014 and so the party needs to prepare for that crucial test on a war footing.
Several crucial states elections are scheduled in the next 12 months and the party is trying to revive its fortunes. There is a major leadership crisis in Andhra Pradesh where the party did exceedingly well during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress government of K Kiran Kumar Reddy is facing a tough challenge from YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is using the name of his father and former Andhra chief minister late YS Rajashekhar Reddy to establish his political authority.
The plan to revive the party by bringing in senior ministers back into the party is a throwback to the K Kamaraj plan of the 1960s. Under the Kamaraj plan several senior Congress leaders resigned form their posts and went back to the party to revitalise it. Several senior leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai and SK Patil resigned and started working for the party.
- Pallavi Ghosh, Rajdeep Sardesai, Bhupendra Chaubey