In a surprise move, the Congress today named 61-year-old Asha Kumari, five-time party MLA from Himachal Pradesh, the new incharge of Punjab affairs days after a controversy triggered the ouster of previously appointed general secretary Kamal Nath. Ms. Kumari, 52, was convicted in a land grab case in February. She is currently out on bail.
Congress sources said Ms. Kumari was chosen because Captain Amarinder Singh, who is likely to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming elections in Punjab, did not want any “heavy weight” on the post. And Ms. Asha Kumari is considered a “soft-spoken, easy-going politician” who can make Capt. Singh feel at ease. Senior Congress leader Janardhan Diwedi told media that Ms. Kumari’s designation is “in-charge” and it should not be misconstrued as “general secretary in charge,” a post to which only seniormost politicians can aspire for.
The Congress was considering former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as general secretary for Punjab but the matter was kept pending in the wake of AAP lodging an FIR against her in the tanker scam in Delhi. That apart, Asha Kumari is known to have organisational skills and is a close confidant of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Daughter of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Madneshwar Saran Singh Deo, Asha is a founder-member of Congress youth wing NSUI and has served in the Virbhadra Singh cabinet when she was close to the CM.
Asha hails from an MP royal family and was married into the Chamba royalty. She represents Dalhousie and is a prominent face of the anti-Virbhadra camp at present. Her elevation is seen as a major promotion and perhaps a stepping stone to general secretary-ship. Shakeel Ahmad, the replaced Punjab general secretary, too, was first named state incharge before being elevated as general secretary.