AK Antony gave a clean chit to Rahul Gandhi for the Congress' Lok Sabha poll debacle. But Sonia Gandhi, it seems, has had enough. Unwilling to give Rahul a free hand before the October assembly polls in the state, she has taken the party reins in her hand and taken away almost all powers from the Rahul coterie.
The biggest casualty is chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. Till recently he claimed the Congress high command had full faith in him. Which is why even after the poll debacle he was retained as the state's CM. He even told dna in an interview that he was the boss as far as poll-related matters were concerned.
But as part of a new strategy, former Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde has been appointed the head of the election manifesto committee. Former CM Ashok Chavan who was embroiled in the Adarsh scam has been given the responsibility of coordination. Industries minister Narayan Rane who blasted Chavan recently for the poll debacle have been made the state election campaign committee head.
Party insiders say Sonia Gandhi wants senior leaders who have mass appeal and are resourceful to steer the party in the assembly polls. The elecion commision is likely to announce the code of conduct next week.
"It is a well-known fact that CM Chavan is close to Rahul. But Sonia Gandhi has abandoned him completely. Shinde, Ashok Chavan and Rane have been given major a 'say' in ticket distributions as well," a senior Congress leader said.
"Senior Congress leaders who were sidelined all these years to make way for Rahul's coterie are now having a say in the party's decision-making process. Mrs Gandhi is wary of taking any chance with people from the Rahul coterie whose disastrous planning led to consecutive failures in various assembly polls and in the recent Lok Sabha elections."
The leader even went to the extent of saying that Sonia has realised if she continues pandering to the whims of Rahul's followers, the Congress might soon find a place in history books instead of in the country's political map.
The Congress registered its lowest tall in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls — only 44. Even after the Emergency, the Congress maintained a dignified position by winning 154 seats in the 1977 elections.
dna on Monday reported though Antony gave Rahul a clean chit, most leaders told him that the party's poll debacle was because of faulty and unrealistic planning by the Rahul coterie.
CM Chavan was not consulted by the party high command during the last leg of negotiations with Rane. "It is a clear signal to him that the top brass is unhappy with his performance in the Lok Sabha polls even though he was not sacked. And, the Congress does not want to take a risk once again by giving him all powers during the state polls," another Congress leader said.
"Keeping Chavan at the helm would be disastrous for the party fighting for its existence and survival. A small mistake can prove costly... So, Rane, Shinde and Ashok Chavan have been entrusted with bigger responsibilities ahead of the state polls. Sonia Gandhi is confident that these leaders would revive the party rank and file. Also, these poll veterans are the right choice to take on the Shiv Sena-BJP combine."
Ashok Chavan said he would do justice to do the coordination job among all leaders and party functionaries. "It is a crucial job and I am confident that I will do it well. We have started interviewing prospective candidates for the state polls," he said.
Another Congress leader who is close to Shinde said that winnability in polls is the main criteria in ticket distribution. "The polls are a real test of our leadership skills. Earlier, we were worried about funds. During the Lok Sabha polls, the CM faced a lot of difficulty in providing resources to party candidates and workers. But now with Rane and Ashok Chavan holding charge, we are not worried about resources. We are happy that the Congress president has taken a practical decision. These are positive signs and we are surely going to fight back."