Gearing up for the forthcoming round of Assembly elections and underlining the importance of the electoral battle in Kerala and Assam for the Congress, party chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday drafted Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel into service, appointing them as “senior observers” for campaign management and coordination in Kerala and Assam, respectively.
The Congress president constituted four groups – one each for poll-bound Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and West Bengal – comprising three senior leaders each.
In Kerala, where the Congress eyes a chance but received a jolt in even Christian belts in the recent local body polls, the party is now trying to make amends by reaching out to various Christian leaders. For instance, AICC in-charge of Kerala Tariq Anwar, who is in the state, met Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Malankara Catholic Church, Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, on Tuesday. Senior leaders also met Mar Thoma Church episcopa Joseph Mar Barnabas.
In Assam too, the Congress is hoping to put up a good fight though many party leaders believe it is an uphill battle. The party had suffered a setback in the recent elections to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and Tiwa Autonomous Council (TAC). Two of its MLAs – Ajanta Neog and Rajdeep Goala – had joined the BJP, delivering another blow to the party.
Banking on senior to iron out glitches
The Congress believes it has a realistic chance of winning in Kerala, but the poor showing in the recent local body elections has come as a setback for the party. The defeat also resulted in the resurfacing of a factional feud. By appointing a veteran leader and seasoned politician like Ashok Gehlot, the party high command hopes to iron out the differences.
While the party is expected to enter into an alliance with the AIUDF, which has a support base among the Bengali-origin Muslims of the state, not all leaders are on the same page on tying up with the AIUDF. Besides, the party is facing internal battles in Assam as well.
In Bengal, AICC in-charge Jitin Prasada has asked the state unit to complete seat-sharing talks with the Left parties by the end of January so that the party can begin the process of identifying candidates. He has set up a headed by state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for holding talks with the Left parties.
Besides Gehlot, former Goa CM Luizinho Faleiro and former Karnataka Deputy CM G Parameswara will be senior observers for campaign management and coordination for Kerala. Baghel, AICC general secretary and CWC member Mukul Wasnik and AICC secretary and Bihar MLA Shakeel Ahmed Khan will oversee the preparations in Assam.
Former Karnataka CMr M Veerappa Moily, former Defence Minister M M Pallam Raju and Maharashtra minister Nitin Raut will be in-charge of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Former Rajya Sabha MP B K Hariprasad, Jharkhand Minister Alamgir Alam and Punjab minister Vijay Inder Singla will oversee preparations in West Bengal. “They will discharge their duties in close coordination with AICC general secretaries and in-charges,” a statement by AICC general secretary K C Venugopal said.