AICC in rejig mode ahead of assembly polls

AICC in rejig mode ahead of assembly polls
Tariq Anwar, the in-charge of Congress party affairs in Kerala. File Photo

Late Jimmy George would have rejoiced on hearing about the Congress High Command's decision to make Tariq Anwar the in-charge of party affairs in Kerala.

George, the former national general secretary of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) founded by Sharad Pawar, with P A Sangma and Anwar, died at the age of 52 in 2017.

Anwar's homecoming to Congress was in 2018, as he disagreed with the clean chit given by Pawar to the Narendra Modi government on the Rafale deal.

Anwar strongly supported Rahul Gandhi's criticism of the Rafale deal signed by Modi with France.

Yet, it was a parting of ways without bitterness. Anwar thanked Pawar for two terms in Rajya Sabha on NCP ticket from Maharashtra and also for his stint as a minister of state under Pawar in UPA2.

It was 19 years ago that Anwar, as AICC general secretary, signed the famous letter with Pawar and Sangma, questioning Sonia Gandhi's competence to head the Congress, as a person born abroad.

George was an admirer of Anwar, who treated him as a family member. However, his untimely demise forestalled the answer to a probable question whether George, who was the chairman of the Kerala Electrical and Allied Engineering Company under the LDF government, would have followed Anwar into the Congress. Ironically, Anwar was expelled from Congress during Sonia's tenure, but she herself reappointed him as AICC general secretary.

Tariq Anwar at Jimmy George's house in Kottayam in 2008. Photo: Ajish Jimmy George

The appointment of Anwar is one of the many indicators carrying the stamp of Rahul Gandhi in the set up, prompting talk that the Wayanad MP would be the most serious contender for the post of the next Congress president.

If the new Congress panel to oversee organisational polls led by Gujarat leader Madhusudhan Mistry follows the timeline adopted by previous commission headed by Mullappally Ramachandran in 2017, the election of the next Congress president is likely after seven months.

The new appointments were made just before the parliament session. Sonia then flew to the US for a medical check up, accompanied by Rahul.

The move is seen as an attempt to show that the policy paralysis in the AICC is coming to a close after the jolt given by a letter from the group of 23 leaders led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor.

Interpretations galore about the personal gains and losses for some of the signatories of the controversial letter in the organisation.

While general secretary Mukul Wasnik has lost control of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which he oversaw for long, he has been included in the special committee led by veteran A K Antony to assist Sonia till the AICC session.

Tariq Anwar with Rahul Gandhi

He also continues to be the general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh, ahead of crucial bypolls in that state.

Azad, who was the longest-serving general secretary, has lost his party post, but continues as a member of the Congress working committee. There is uncertainty on whether he would get a renomination to Rajya Sabha, as his home state Jammu and Kashmir has become a union territory and its assembly is yet to come into existence.

Anwar and former external affairs minister Salman Kurshid are the minority leaders who have got opportunities at the expense of Azad.

The five states where elections will be held early next year have seen a change of guard at the AICC level.

Like Anwar, Karnataka leader Dinesh Gundu Rao has been given charge of election-bound Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

These are three states where the Congress performed extremely well in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Lok Sabha MP Chellakumar of Tamil Nadu is the in-charge of Telengana, while Oommen Chandy continues to oversee Andhra Pradesh.

In both these states, the process of rebuilding the organisation has a longer time frame since assembly elections are due only in 2024, along with next Lok Sabha elections.

In Karnataka, the message is more complex. K C Venugopal, whose work in Goa and later Karnataka impressed Rahul, will now be busy with his main responsibility as general secretary in-charge of the organisation.

Another Rahul loyalist, Randeep Singh Surjewala, gets charge of Karnataka.

Former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who held sway on organisational matters for several years, does not have any loyalist in the AICC set up.

Siddaramaiah and Ghulam Nabi Azad

He remains a special invitee to the CWC as the Congress legislature party leader in Karnataka. Earlier, the high command too had made a surprise choice by making general secretary B K Hariprasad as the party nominee in the legislative council.

Critics see the elevation of "original Congressmen" – in contrast to those with Janata Dal background like Siddaramaiah -- as a small disapproval of the failure to prevent the defection of Siddaramaiah loyalists, who toppled the JS(S)-Congress coalition government led by H D Kumaraswamy last year.

Focus will be on new office bearers, especially Anwar, who was the national president of Youth Congress with extensive contacts in all states including Kerala.

Kerala opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala was the AICC secretary in 1999, when Anwar was the general secretary.

Anwar has to rush to get familiarised with the younger generation of Congress leaders in Kerala and also build a relationship with the constituents of the Congress-led United Democratic Front before the elections.

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