New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi Tuesday appointed senior leader Ahmed Patel, his mother Sonia Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenant, as the party’s new treasurer.

Patel replaces veteran Motilal Vora who had been handling the Congress’ finances since 2002. He, however, faces an uphill task as the party is facing a severe fund crunch before the crucial 2019 general elections and four assembly elections later this year.

With the elevation, which incidentally comes on his birthday, Patel returns to the post he held till July 2000, when he resigned after some Gujarat Congress leaders ran campaigns against him.

Other changes

The Congress president, who has been revamping the organisation since he took over in December last year, effected more changes Tuesday.

Apart from Patel, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma has been made the chairman of the party’s foreign affairs cell replacing Karan Singh, while former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar has been made a permanent invitee of the Congress Working Committee. Goa Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro has been appointed as the general secretary in-charge of the North East states.

Patel’s induction has come amid speculation over whether those close to Sonia, often referred to as the old guard, would find a place in Rahul’s Congress.

Relying on an old hand

The Congress was bound to replace Vora as a treasurer as he is 89 years old and the party needed someone who could serve it in the coming few years. There was speculation that the post would go to Madhya Pradesh leader Kamal Nath but he has been appointed the state Congress president.

With Patel, Rahul appears to have chosen a leader with the experience of handling the party’s finances and one with good ties inside and outside the party.

The change of guard also comes when the Congress is struggling for funds that forced it to even launch social media campaigns to tide over the crisis. Several state units have not received any funds from the party for the past few months, making it difficult for them to even account for daily expenses.

An internal report, presented to Rahul at the beginning of May, highlighted that the party needs at least Rs 1,000 crore in the next four months to plan for the year-end election campaigns in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh along with regular expenses.

The Congress’ troubles have been compounded by the fact that donations from large corporate houses have declined severely after 2014. Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) reports show the Congress received Rs 225 crore as overall donations in 2017 as compared to the Rs 1,034 crore received by the BJP. And between 2012 and 2016, the Congress, as per ADR data, has received corporate donations of Rs 198.16 crore as compared to the Rs 705.81 crore that the BJP managed.

Patel will now be expected to bridge the gap between the Congress’ funds and its expenses.

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