Overruling the views of its leaders in Kerala, the Congress today appointed V M Sudheeran the state party chief and made AICC secretary V D Satheeshan the vice president at Rahul Gandhi’s instance. The party also appointed union minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who faces criminal charges, as the chief of its West Bengal unit despite Rahul’s clean politics slogan.
And young Lok Sabha member Ashok Tanwar became party chief in Haryana, part of Rahul’s long-term plan to hand over organisational responsibilities to the younger generation.
Sources said the assessment of the party was that the aggressive Adhir is the best bet to revive the party in Bengal. The appointment of the Murshidabad Congress strongman, a vocal critic of Mamata Banerjee, also signals the Congress is not looking at reviving the Trinamool tie-up.
The appointment of Sudheeran and Satheeshan reflects Rahul’s influence. The deeply divided Kerala unit had for a change unanimously suggested that assembly speaker G Karthikeyan succeed Ramesh Chennithala, who has joined the cabinet as home minister. Both Chennithala and Chandy, between whom no love is lost, had endorsed Karthikeyan.
Sources said Rahul was keen on either Sudheeran or Satheeshan , the former for his clean image and no-nonsense attitude, the latter for his profile as an activist-leader. Satheeshan, 50, is an MLA and the best-known face among legislators who have come to be known as “green MLAs” for being vocal on environmental issues even if that means opposing the ruling Congress’s initiatives. But Rahul, who holds the Congress unit in Kerala as the model to be followed by other states, was keen that new faces lead the party there.
The appointment of Tanwar, who turns 38 Wednesday, continues a pattern of bringing youth to leadership levels. Only last month, the party had appointed Sachin Pilot and Arun Yadav PCC presidents in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Tanwar, the Sirsa MP and an AICC secretary, is a Dalit face who will replace Phool Chand Mullana.
His immediate challenge would be to bring back a semblance of unity in the faction-ridden state unit with elections just a month away.
V M Sudheeran,
Crusader without a lobby
Although personA non grata to many Congress groups in Kerala, V M Sudheeran enjoys mass support because of crusades he has led against corruption and concern for the common man’s issues.
Sudheeran, 65, lost his Lok Sabha election in 2004 and has since ignored calls to recontest. The staunch A K Antony loyalist is a leftist at heart who has battled the party-led government on a high speed rail corridor, tolled highways and a private airport at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta, which the government is pursuing. He also took on a powerful leader of his backward Hindu community, Vellappally Nateshan.
Hailing from Thrissur, Sudheeran entered the state Congress student union in 1970 and later led it and the Youth Congress. He became MP from Alappuzha in 1977, MLA from 1980 to 1996 — he was the speaker for two years and health minister for a year — and then Alappuzha MP again in 1996, 1998 and 1999.
The Murshidabad powerhouse
Bengal’s new PCC chief has a history of murder cases and muscle power. “To resist poaching by the Trinamool Congress, the Congress needed a strong person,” a senior leader said. Adhir, 57, MoS for Railways, is on bail in a case involving the murder of one Kamal Shaikh in May 2011. A school dropout facing cases since 1978, he was declared an absconder in a 1996 murder but won an election on a campaign with his recorded voice. In 2010, he was acquitted of the 2003 murder of a CPM panchayat pradhan. He was also jailed for the 2005 murders of two hoteliers, secured bail and was later acquitted.
In 1996, Mamata Banerjee, then in the Congress, had threatened to hang herself should Adhir be given an election ticket. They remain bitter rivals. Adhir is also a poet, having published an anthology each in Bengali and English.
Age and Rahul on his side
He is Haryana’s youngest Congress chief ever, a reflection of Rahul Gandhi’s resolve to invest in a younger leadership. At 37, he is nearly half the age of outgoing chief Phool Chand Mullana. Tanwar, who had headed the Indian Youth Congress for five years and also the NSUI, is close to Rahul and an activist — “Aam Aadmi Ka Sipahi” for empowering the youth was implemented when he was NSUI president. Chief Minister B S Hooda had wanted either Mullana — his term ended in 2011 but he wasn’t replaced — or Ram Prakash, while Birender Singh recently said in public Selja would be the best choice. Tanwar, MP from Sirsa, represents the Dalit community, as does Selja, now nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Talwar is married to Avantika Maken, daughter of Lalit Maken and granddaughter of former President Shankar Dayal Sharma.