Not wanting to repeat the failure in UP, Cong hopes the new arrangement will reduce arbitrariness and favouritism in selection of candidates and ensure greater accountability.

New Delhi : As it gears up for the assembly elections in Karnataka, the Congress party is revealing in full measure the leadership crisis it faces in this crucial southern state.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi today announced three committees –one each for campaign, manifesto and strategy headed by a motley group of persons belonging to different castes – a Lingayat, a Vokkaligga, a Brahmin and Muslim albeit all lightweights. But then effectively sidelined former chief minister and union minister S M Krishna, as it drafted former union minister C M Ibrahim as the chairman of the strategy committee. Ibrahim a one-time associate of former prime minister H D Devegowda is seen as an outsider in Congress organisation.

Importance of the Karnataka election is also reflected in selection of Defence Minister A K Antony to head the group with senior leaders like Ambika Soni, union ministers Vayalar Ravi and Jitendra Singh and former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, incharge of the Northeastern states, as its members. The group has been asked to stay put in Bangalore during the entire election process until the polling on May 5.

Congress general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, who has emerged at the most trusted man of Rahul assigned the task of touring all states to identify the prospective candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, is also part of the group in his capacity as incharge of Karnataka affairs. The PCC president and the CLP leader are the other two ex-officio members.

Exclusion of the 80-year old former foreign minister S M Krishna from the group also indicates the leadership rejecting his demand to project him as the chief ministerial candidate to oust the ruling BJP from power in the state.

The new mechanism for the poll management is the first effective decision that Rahul has taken since taking over the Congress leadership even while he keeps guessing all about the revamp of the party tasked to him by Sonia Gandhi, relegating herself to policy matters and empowering him to take the day-to-day decisions in the party.

The party leaders hope that the new arrangement will reduce arbitrariness and favouritism in selection of the candidates and ensure greater accountability in the management of election and its outcome. So far the state screening committees used to shortlist the candidate, but the job now goes into the hands of the central leaders to plan the entire election right from the stage of candidates’’ selection to oversee the entire campaign.

Those close to Rahul say he thought of experimenting with the new mechanism, borne out of his experience of the faulty selection of candidates and haphazard poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh. He was so dejected from the poor results of Congress in Uttar Pradesh that he felt nothing can be done until he overhauls the entire system of the party for handling the elections.

Once the central group sets shop in Bangalore, Rahul may also consider himself taking command of the poll campaign by going on a tour of the state for as many days as possible alike his Uttar Pradesh drive as Karnataka is a test case for him to demonstrate his leadership quality before the Lok Sabha and other Assembly polls.

Though the Congress leaders see the party’s easy return to power in view of the sharp divide in the ruling BJP with its former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa forming its own regional outfit, Rahul has been warning the state party leaders that it will be a serious setback for the Congress if they become complacent and fail to oust the BJP from the only state in the South it has been able to establish itself.

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