The Congress is a party of miracles. If you are a doubter, you only have to have a look at P.C. Vishnunath’s career twists. The young legislator was given a cold shoulder by the party’s leadership in Kerala when the district party presidents were chosen. Now, he has been catapulted to the top rung of the organization with the post of a secretary of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of the party’s affairs in Karnataka, one of the few states in which it is still in power.
The sidelining of Vishnunath in the race for the Kollam District Congress Committee president’s office had even irked former chief minister Oommen Chandy. He did not keep a secret of his displeasure with the high command.
Chandy can rejoice for Vishnunath has found a niche place in the party. He is only a notch lower than Chandy in the ‘A’ group in the party’s Kerala unit.
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A similar ascent was witnessed in New Delhi in K.C. Venugopal’s case. The former Union minister has been made a general secretary of the party, joining a small league of Keralites to rise to the top rung of the party.
The day-to-day activities of the Congress are no longer decided in 10 Janpath, the residence of party president Sonia Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi’s Tughlaq Road residence has become the nerve center of the party’s affairs. The party vice-president consults his mother only before taking crucial decisions.
The generational change in the party is best reflected in the appointment of Vishnunath and Venugopal. Gandhi is not keen on the old guard who finds pleasure in finding fault with him. He would rather have around him leaders like Venugopal , who aggressively present the party’s case in Parliament.
During his stint as minister of state for aviation, Venugopal was surprised to see Gandhi on an unexpected visit to his office. The leader wanted to know the progress of the proposed aviation university in Amethi in the name of his pilot-father Rajeev Gandhi. He was not disappointed. Venugopal has been a trusted companion of the Congress vice-president ever since.
The Kerala MP’s recent assignment as the chairman of the candidate screening committee ahead of the Goa assembly election was a test dose before he was entrusted with the bigger responsibility of the general secretary.
The Congress managed to emerge as the single largest party in Goa but ended up sitting in the opposition thanks to Digvijaya Singh’s plan to wait for the selection of the legislative party leader before staking claim for the government. The party high command realized the folly of the decision. Leaders like Venugopal had been opposing the move.
Now, Venugopal has replaced Singh as the general secretary of the AICC.
Vishnunath has similar responsibilities. The four AICC secretaries have been ordered to be in Karnataka until the assembly election early next year. Vishnunath had an inkling of his promotion. He was asked by the party vice-president whether he was ready to stay away from his home for six months to up to a year, during a meeting he attended in New Delhi along with K. Muraleedharan and M. Liju.
Gandhi may have had the group equations in Kerala in mind when he elevated Vishnunath along with Venugopal. Both ‘I’ and ‘A’ groups have something to cheer about. The promotion of the Hindu leaders is also seen as a strategy to take on the BJP.
The Congress high command announced the promotions after consulting Kerala opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala when he visited Delhi Saturday. The vice-president repeated his suggestion that Chennithala should be able to work with the national leadership but the Kerala leader pointed out that Venugopal and Vishnunath were already helping out with the party affairs.
Back home in Kerala, the party is still without a permanent leader. M.M. Hassan has been appointed as a caretaker president after V.M. Sudheeran’s departure but whether he is to stay or leave after finding a replacement is yet to be decided.
Oommen Chandy does not want to be in the post and his ‘A’ group is not able to nominate another leader. Meanwhile, the other group is struggling with a problem of plenty. A leader who does not identify with either group may be an ideal candidate to be the KPCC president.
Venugopal may have preferred to be the KPCC president rather than the AICC general secretary, some of the leaders believe. Mullappally Ramachandran, K.V. Thomas, K. Sudhakaran, Benny Behanan, P.T. Thomas, V.D. Satheesan and Kodikkunnil Suresh are some of the other names before the AICC.
A president cannot be airlifted from Delhi since the party has already set in motion the process of membership campaign. But in the Congress, miracles do happen, like nominating AICC office-bearers after the declaration of election.