Congress picks veteran war horses for Punjab and UP

Rajat Kain

gulab-upCongress party has chosen experience and proven track record over young blood and experiment. In a major organisational shake-up, a first of kind after 2014 general election catastrophe, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has given Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath a task to look after the affairs in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where assembly elections are due to be held early next year.

In deep shambles after losing several state elections and ceding political space to the BJP, even in its traditional strongholds, Congress party is keenly looking to turn its fortune in two very crucial north India states.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, a 67-year-old veteran Congress leader from Jammu and Kashmir, is a known organisational man currently representing the party in Upper House of the Parliament as the leader of Opposition. Azad is reputed for stitching alliances, which has very often led to positive results. His appointment as general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh is a hint that Congress is looking to work in an alliance for 2017 polls.

The speculations are also rife about its growing proximity with Mayawati’s BSP, especially after the latter’s support in Rajya Sabha polls.

Statistics showing Congress party's poll performance along with its allies.  Photo - RSTV Source: ECI

Statistics showing Congress party’s poll performance along with its allies.
Image: RSTV
Source: ECI

Among the most successful of his tasks was working a broad alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu that saw Congress returning to Lok Sabha in 2004 and retaining power in 2009 and a tie-up with now bitter opponent Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) in 2004 that saw party storming back to power in undivided Andhra Pradesh and ruling till 2014.

Congress alliance had swept the two southern states. While it was a junior partner in Tamil Nadu, winning 10 and 8 seats in 2004 and 2009 General elections, respectively, it had swept Andhra on its own winning 29 seats in 2004 Lok Sabha polls and 185 in simultaneously held Assembly polls.

Ghulam Nabi Azad was also credited for its performance in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002 and 2008 where it was a dominant part of the ruling coalition, first with PDP and later with National Conference. Azad also served as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir from November 2005 to July 2008.

Meanwhile, Madhusudan Mistry – outgoing general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh – has been retained in the party’s central election body. Mistry, a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat had been under fire from several sections after party’s dismal performance in 2014 polls, where it could only cling on two seats – Amethi and Raebareli.

kamal-punjabOther veteran out of the cold is Kamal Nath. The 69-year-old politician has also been entrusted with the affairs of Haryana along with Punjab. Congress on Saturday received a jolt in biennial elections on Saturday where the votes of its 14 MLAs were declared invalid, thus paving way for BJP-backed candidate to defeat RK Anand, the INLD candidate it backed.

The loss in Haryana has rung a loud bell with speculations of internal sabotage not totally ruled out by the party. This is something which Kamal Nath had to look-after besides the crucial do or die assembly polls in Punjab.

Congress has been out of power in Punjab since the spring of 2007 and is now facing stiff challenge from not just the Alaki-BJP combine but also from Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP. Among his first priorities may be setting Congress party’s house in order which has looked not totally water-tight even after surviving a possible crack.

Kamal Nath, a nine time MP from Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwara and former Union minister in several Congress governments, replaced Shakeel Ahmed on his way through becoming the general secretary in charge of Punjab and Haryana.

Also known for his strong organisational and managerial skills, Kamal Nath is said to be man behind Congress’s victorious performances in 1998 Assembly polls and 2002 Delhi civic polls.

The appointments have come at a time when Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as party chief is imminent. More than anything, it dispels the school of thought that grand old party’s old guard will be replaced by the young turks en-masse.