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Not a job for one: UP Congress may see multiple leaders at helm

India News


The Congress has not yet appointed the president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC), with the post lying vacant since Ajay Kumar Lallu was asked to step down following the Assembly election debacle in which the party managed to win two seats.

Though it is not yet clear who will represent the state unit at the “Chintan Shivir” that will be held in Rajasthan’s Udaipur from May 13, Congress insiders said a decision could be made in the coming week and the party was thinking of overhauling the leadership structure and hand over the UPCC’s command to more than one leader.

“For a state like UP, no one individual can handle the responsibility of revival alone. Thus, a new organisational setup will have to be evolved so that responsibility is shared and at the same time hierarchy is also maintained. Moreover, in UP, there are caste factors too. That is why things are taking time but we are hopeful that the party will decide the new head before the ‘Chintan Shivir’ and if not, then appoint an acting state president till the new organisational setup is finalised,” said a senior Congress functionary.

Given the daunting size of Uttar Pradesh, before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi took the initiative of appointing senior leaders “zonal presidents” and gave the UPCC president the charge of coordinating between these leaders. But senior leaders at the time such as RPN Singh, Jitin Prasada, Raja Ram Pal, and Rasheed Masood found it hard to work within the system. While Singh and Prasada are now in the BJP, Pal is with the Samajwadi Party.

The front-runners

Some of the names suggested by sections of the party for the new leadership roles are former MP and retired bureaucrat PL Punia, former state president Nirmal Khatri, and Other Backward Class (OBC) leader and one of the party’s two MLAs, Virendra Chaudhary. Some have also suggested a bigger role for “spiritual guru” Acharya Pramod Krishnam.

According to party insiders, Punia’s administrative ability will come in handy for the party. The former bureaucrat, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community, has led many of the party’s campaigns for Dalits and once played a significant role in designing its campaign for reserved seats in UP. In addition, Punia is also seen as an acceptable face across all party sections.

According to party insiders, former Ayodhya MP Nirmal Khatri may give the Congress an edge as he has been in the position before and has a strong connection with the cadre. But another section of the state unit is pushing Virendra Chaudhary as it believes he can attract a large section of OBC voters, especially from east UP.

For Acharya Pramod Krishnam, the biggest obstacle is his lack of acceptability by the cadre. The “spiritual guru” is considered close to some of the SP’s founder members and has not been hesitant in attending their campaign despite being part of the Congress. Krishnam contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls against Rajnath Singh from Lucknow but lost. In the run-up to the last state polls, he said the party should project a Brahmin as its chief ministerial face.

A Congress leader said that given how Lallu did not have any say of his own, those in the reckoning would want more autonomy before taking the job. “While hierarchy should be respected, if someone is given a responsibility then he or she should also be given respect,” the leader added. “Many leaders are hesitant having seen following how Lallu was treated.”

Another senior Congress leader said, “The previous president was very hardworking and won his seats in the past against all odds. But during his tenure, the cadre found it hard to accept his leadership. Despite big claims about cadre formation, results showed that there were none on the ground. If these things have to be changed, there is a need to not just have a prominent leader who is acceptable by the cadre but one who takes others along and has some autonomy to make decisions.”





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