New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS) New Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Nirmal Khatri hopes his move to divide the party into eight zones and changing it "work culture" will go a long way towards rebuilding it in the country's most populous and politically significant state.
Khatri, 61, who took over last month from Rita Bahuguna Joshi and is a Lok Sabha member from the Faizabad constituency, is also planning to soon recast the various party panels.
"Our priority is to build the party organisation. People do not see us as having a strong organisation in UP," Khatri told IANS in an interview.
Khatri has justified dividing the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee into eight zones, saying running the party affairs for such a large state - which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha - was not possible for a single person.
The head of each zone will be tasked with revamping the party organization in the respective zones.
It will help build a rapport with the workers, infuse a fighting spirit in them and make them identify with the party's ideology, he felt.
Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi said "too many leaders and a weak organisation" were the reason behind the party's poor show in the February-March assembly elections, Khatri denied there was any infighting within the state party unit.
Instead, he said, it reflected aspirations of the individual leaders which resulted in a status quo.
Infighting is precisely the reason why Khatri, seen as a "neutral" leader, was given the responsibility to head the UP Congress, party sources said.
His predecessor had stepped down in the wake of the party's dismal performance in the assembly elections in which the Congress could increase its tally by just six seats from 22 in 2007 to 28 in the 403-member assembly despite a high profile campaign by party general secretary Rahul Gandhi. The Congress finished fourth behind the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Khatri said there was a need to change the party's work culture if it was to gain in the 2014 general elections.
"A change in the party's work culture can change public perception about the Congress. Personal relations with the workers will help us strengthen their commitment. This, in turn, will help us connect with the people better," Khatri said.
The task before him is indeed huge. The Congress moved to the margins after 1992 when Muslims and Dalits, its traditional vote bank, shifted to the rising Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, and it has remained there since. The party last ruled Uttar Pradesh for a nine-year period from June 1980 to December 1989.
Rahul Gandhi's efforts to revive the party in UP did not work and has left the Congress managers worried over its prospects in 2014.
Khatri feels his new responsibility is not that bad after all.
"I don't think it (the post) is a crown of thorns," he said.
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)