M A I N   N E W S

Ambika winner in new-look Congress
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 17
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has sought to blend experience with youth and give adequate representation to different regions, castes and women in the new-look party organisation unveiled today.

The exhaustive exercise includes the constitution of a jumbo-sized 48-member Congress Working Committee (CWC) and the appointment of eight AICC general secretaries and 25 secretaries. The reconstitution was necessitated as several senior party functionaries were inducted into the Cabinet.

While former Chief Ministers Digvijay Singh and Ashok Gehlot along with senior leaders Margaret Alva and Satyavrat Chaturvedi are among the eight new fulltime CWC members, Mrs Ambika Soni, who jostles for the number two position with Ahmed Patel, has emerged as a clear winner in the latest recast. Mr Patel continues in his old position as the Congress President's political secretary. Other new faces in the CWC are G. Venkatswamy, Janardhan Dwivedi and M.L. Fotedar.

Mrs Soni may no longer head the media department but she retains charge of the all-important Congress President's Office (CPO), in addition to which she will manage AICC meetings and sessions, the CWC and the Chief Election Committee (CEC). These responsibilities were earlier being handled by Oscar Fernandes, who has been inducted into the Cabinet. Besides her old charge of Jammu and Kashmir, Mrs Soni will also look after Himachal Pradesh.

Mrs Mohsina Kidwai, Mr R.K.Dhawan and Mr Vyalyar Ravi have been dropped as AICC general secretaries. Veteran leader K. Karunakaran lost his place in the CWC, clearly paying the price for his persisent dissident activities in Kerala while his bete noire A.K. Antony has been retained.

Mr Ravi, however, is being mentioned as a possible consensus candidate for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson. Mrs Kidwai and Mr. Dhawan are tipped for inclusion in the Union Cabinet which is likely to be expanded when Parliament goes into recess from July 23 to August 17.

Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, who was AICC General Secretary and CWC member, does not figure in the new list either. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior ministers Shivraj Patil, K. Natwar Singh, Arjun Singh and Pranab Mukherjee retain their places in the reconstituted CWC.

Although no minister has been given any party responsibility, an exception was made in the case of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who has been given charge of Punjab. Announcing the changes today, Mrs Ambika Soni explained that Mr Mukherjee has been general secretary, Punjab, in the past and was a member of the AICC committee set up to sort out the recent factional battles in the state unit. Not only is Mr Mukherjee familiar with the state, it was felt, his seniority, experience and skills at crisis-management would be an asset in handling the SYL canal controversy.

While no first-time MP, including Rahul Gandhi, have been inducted, a host of young and new faces with some field experience and party activists have found a place in the revamped party organisation. Mr Salman Khursheed has been elevated as fulltime CWC member and AICC general secretary incharge of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Pondicherry. Mr Ajit Jogi has been rehabilitated, having been included in the list of CWCs permanent invitees.

Other young faces include Mr Ramesh Chennithala and Mr Harikesh Bahadur have been named permanent invitees to the CWC and given responsibility for the election-bound states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively. Mr Jyotriaditya Scindia, Mr Waseem Ahmed, Mr Imran Kidwai and Mr Anil Shastri are among the 10 new special invitees to the CWC.

The number of AICC secretaries has been reduced from 32 to 25 but here again, an effort has been made to induct young people which includes former Delhi minister Ajay Maken, R.P.N. Singh, B.K. Hariprasad, Manish Tiwari, Randeep Surjewala and Tom Vadakkan.

Mrs Margaret Alva, who returns to the AICC after a long gap, has a challenging job on hand as she has been given charge of the election-going state of Maharashtra. Mr Satyavrat Chaturvedi, too, has a tough task having been entrusted with the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress is looking desperately for a revival.

Mr Motilal Vora continues as party treasurer but now has additional responsibilities of administration and Uttaranchal. Ms Girija Vyas replaces Mrs Soni as the media department chairperson. Mr Anand Sharma, Mr Abishek Singhvi and Mrs Jayanti Natarajan are the partys spokespersons.

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