The ‘non-fighter’ tasked with reviving UP Congress
Nirmal Khatri, 61, is by no means considered an aggressive fighter like Rita Bahuguna Joshi, whom he replaces as Uttar Pradesh Congress chief. "A man of the cadre", "soft-spoken", "acceptable to all", "non-controversial" and "one who keeps away groupism" are how party leaders describe the Lok Sabha member, one they see as likely to engage the opposition rather "softly".
There remain some Congressmen who feel the "non-fighter" image might restrict the party's efforts to emerge as a strong contender in Uttar Pradesh before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The majority, however, feel Khatri is the right choice by the high command when the party is struggling and considering his ability to take everyone along.
Besides, they feel, it is a break from the hardcore caste politics the Congress tried in the recent Assembly elections, unsuccessfully. Khatri is a grandson of veteran socialist leader Acharya Narendra Dev, one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party.
"Having experimented during the recent Assembly election with outsiders and non-cadre people, the party has taken the right decision in selecting a man who believes in working in coordination with the cadres rather than building his own force unlike many other leaders," said Karuna Shanker Mishra, Congress district president of Faizabad.
Mishra described how Khatri took cadres into confidence before any decision, including his own election. When in Faizabad, he is easily approachable and holds public hearings at home almost every day, Mishra said.
One worry, however, is how much time he can manage for his new responsibility. "He works hard, but he had a problem in his spinal cord and thus could not sit for long time. He seems to be better now and was even visiting localities in his constituency," said a Congress leader from Faizabad.
The biggest of Khatri's immediate challenges is rebuilding the party and inspiring cadres for 2014 after the humiliating Assembly poll defeat. Amid the importance then given to senior leaders who had recently joined the party, the most obvious example being Beni Prasad Verma, many Congress cadres in the state had stopped taking initiatives. Later, senior leaders variously blamed the "organisation", "weak cadres" and "infighting". This demoralised old loyalists: they had first been neglected and were then being blamed.
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