Guwahati: The Search for the Congress has begun for its party Chief in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Mumbai unit, said a party functionary familiar with the developments. The changes are aimed at ending in-fighting in some of the states and giving a fresh start to the party in others.
The Congress is trying hard to be back to power in these states and the immediate task of the new chiefs would be to revive the organisation position in these states ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken, who is unwell and went abroad last month for a health check, has conveyed to the party’s leadership that it will be difficult for him to continue on medical grounds.
Known for his strong stand against allying with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, Maken took over as the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief in Delhi in March 2015 soon after the party’s debacle in the assembly elections.
He replaced Arvinder Singh Lovely who switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in April 2017 before returning to the fold in February.
The party official, on grounds of anonymity, said the party leadership is looking at several options, with one section of the party suggesting that former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit be appointed as the PCC chief with three working presidents — one each from Muslim, Jat and Bania (trader) communities. While Another section wants the reins to be handed over to someone open to an alliance with the AAP for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, given that the party’s top central leadership is keen on a partnership with the Arvind Kejriwal-led party in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab.
The names of veteran leader Mahabal Mishra, former Lok Sabha member Sandeep Dikshit, Sharmistha Mukherjee and Devender Yadav have been discussed the functionary said. While Sandeep Dikshit is actively involved in the party’s election campaign in Madhya Pradesh, Mishra is a known face among the Purvanchalis in the national capital.
Purvanchalis constitute roughly about 3-4 million of Delhi’s population of around 20 million and have the ability to influence the outcome in at least 30 of the state’s 70 assembly seats. In the current assembly, there are 12 legislators from Purvanchal; present BJP chief and Lok Sabha member from North East Delhi Manoj Tiwari and AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh are also from the region.
Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar is set to seek re-election from Gurdaspur in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and hence will not be able to devote much time to the organisational affairs in the state, the party official said.
In neighbouring Haryana, the ongoing power tussle between state chief Ashok Tanwar and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has resulted in intense infighting in the party.
“This factionalism could hurt the party prospects in next year’s assembly elections in Haryana, where we have a strong chance to come back to power,” the official said.
Tanwar, a former Lok Sabha member from Sirsa and a Dalit leader, took over as the state chief in February 2014.
Hooda’s supporters have been demanding that the two-time chief minister should be named as the PCC chief ahead of the elections, arguing that he is the tallest Congress leader in the state and capable of bringing the party back to power. But former union minister and a senior Dalit leader Kumari Selja has also emerged as a strong contender for the top party post in the state.
After the appointment of AICC general secretary in-charge of Haryana Kamal Nath as Madhya Pradesh Congress chief in April this year, the party leadership is yet to name his successor.
In Himachal Pradesh, state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu offered to step down immediately after the party’s defeat in the December 2017 assembly elections. The party’s leadership asked him to continue until his replacement was named. Sukhu was appointed PCC chief in April 2013.
To maintain caste and regional balance in the hill state, the party is likely to appoint Kuldeep Rathore, who is a Rajput and belongs to Upper Himachal, the powerful apple belt and a traditional stronghold of the Congress.
Congress legislature party (CLP) leader Mukesh Agnihotri is a Brahmin and hails from lower Himachal, a region where the BJP is strong. The Congress is also likely to replace Mumbai chief Sanjay Nirupam, who was locked in a bitter feud with the deceased leader of the Party Gurudas Kamat.
The names of former Lok Sabha members Milind Deora and Priya Dutt have been discussed as a possible replacement for Nirupam who took over as the Mumbai chief in March 2015 but there is no clarity yet.