Office space allotted to its functionaries at the Congress headquarters on 24 Akbar Road has, over the years, emerged as a reliable yardstick to measure a leader’s standing in the party hierarchy.
And if the allocation of rooms to office bearers after the recent All India Congress Committee reshuffle is any indication, then it is amply clear that general secretary Madhusudan Mistry’s stars are on the ascendancy.
Former Union Minister Ambika Soni is jostling for equal footing in the party pecking order with senior leader Karan Singh while a comparatively younger Ajay Maken finds himself in the august company of seniors such as Digvijaya Singh and Janardan Dwivedi.
There is always a scramble for rooms in the main office building, which are usually allotted to senior and important office bearers while the others are accommodated in rooms in the rear and front courtyards that were constructed subsequently to house the growing tribe of party functionaries.
Mistry occupied one such room in the rear portion of the office complex, but has now been allocated a room in the main building which was earlier occupied by senior party leader Mohsina Kidwai who resigned her party posts before the AICC reshuffle to enable party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to constitute his own team.
Mistry’s new room is next to general secretary Dwivedi’s office.
Known for his proximity to Rahul, Mistry has been handling key assignments for the Nehru-Gandhi scion. He is a member of the election coordination committee headed by Rahul and has been given the important task of identifying winnable candidates for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
His stock rose after the party’s decisive victory in the recent assembly polls in Karnataka, a state handled by Mistry.
Rahul’s favourite has now been entrusted with the charge of the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, a sure sign that the Congress vice-president has full trust in him
Mistry’s old room has been allocated to newly-appointed general secretary C P Joshi, also known to be close to Rahul. The senior Soni has been given the room earlier occupied by her one-time bete noire Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who has been divested of his party responsibilities.
Although the former AICC general secretary and minister has been given a huge office next to Digvijaya’s room, Soni has to share the space with senior leader Karan Singh who was already occupying the office along with the previous occupant, Azad.
Although Singh, who heads the party’s foreign affairs cell, is not a frequent visitor to the office, Azad had stopped coming to the AICC after he was asked to share the office. The two leaders took turns sitting in the office.
Soni, who returns to the party organisation after a stint in the government, would have liked to have her old room back but it has since been allocated to her colleague Janardan Dwivedi.
Again, she would have preferred to have her new office to herself but has to defer to Singh’s seniority and age. Although Singh has been allotted another room in the building’s rear portion, he is learnt to have requested Soni that they continue with the old arrangement as he cannot undertake the walk to that office because he has a medical issue.
The room’s occupants have an interesting connection. While Azad and Singh both belong to Jammu and Kashmir, Soni has been given charge of this important state in the latest reshuffle.
More importantly, Soni is also looking after the Congress president’s office, which is seen as an indicator of her rehabilitation after she was sidelined in the party.
Maken, who has clearly been the biggest beneficiary in the recent reshuffle, is now occupying the room earlier allotted to Road Transport and Highways Minister leader Oscar Fernandes who has been moved to the government.
The room may not be very large, but the very fact that it is located in the main building and was previously occupied by party loyalist Fernandes, has its own significance. Maken was appointed AICC general secretary in the last reshuffle and given the all-important charge of the media department which has now been rechristened as communications, publicity and publications department.
This department has been identified as being central to the party’s 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign as there is a growing view in the Congress that it has not been able to communicate the UPA government’s achievements to the people and has lost the perception war.
Maken and his team now have the onerous task of restoring the party’s credibility. Not an easy job.
Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters