Preparing for assembly polls in UP and Haryana, the Congress today brought in veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath as general secretaries incharge of the two states in a hierarchical shake-up as the party seeks to revive itself in the Hindi heartland after a string of electoral reverses.
Azad, Congress's Muslim face, takes charge of the party affairs in the key battleground state at a time when it is making attempts to woo the minorities and possibly work for an alliance with Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party with which the leader has good relations.
Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, has been general secretary incharge of Uttar Pradesh twice before. Kamal Nath will look after Haryana apart from Punjab, party General Secretary Janaradan Dwivedi said.
Madhusudan Mistry, who was hitherto looking after Uttar Pradesh, will be the new general secretary incharge of Central Election Committee, while Shakeel Ahmed, incharge of Punjab and Haryana, has been relieved of the charge, Dwivedi.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi effected the changes a day after the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha which saw cross voting by some party MLAs in Uttar Pradesh and alleged deliberate faulty marking by its 14 legislators in Haryana which led to their votes being declared invalid and resulted in the defeat of Congress-backed candidate R K Anand. There were allegations of internal sabotage at the behest of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Azad, 67, is a Gandhi family loyalist and a former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, while 69-year-old Nath is the seniormost MP in the current Lok Sabha having won from his pocket borough of Chhindwara nine times.
The reshuffle came at a time when talk of Rahul Gandhi being elevated as party chief had again gained ground.
Nath had been a party general secretary some 15 years back when he was in charge of key states like Gujarat and West Bengal.
His name was doing rounds as the possible new party chief in Madhya Pradesh.
Congress has roped in poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who successfully managed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha campaign in 2014 and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's last year, to aid and assist the party's UP and Haryana units.
In UP, Congress had secured just two seats in the last Lok Sabha elections with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi emerging victorious from their traditional seats of Rae Bareli and Amethi.
The Congress is in political wilderness in UP since 1989 following emergence of divisive 'Mandal-Mandir' politics and rise of the BSP, which took away its crucial dalit vote base.
In Punjab, Congress is in the opposition for the last nine years and is making a determined bid to capture power from SAD-BJP combine at a time when AAP has also come up as a serious contender for power.
The appointment of seasoned politicians like Azad and Nath came amid calls for a "major surgery" from within the party following its recent debacle in assembly polls in four states, including Assam and Kerala.