Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reshuffled the leadership of his ruling Congress (I) party today, saying he wanted "to get more life and dynamism" into what he and others have criticized as a moribund and corrupt organization.
Gandhi, who is party president, said he was fulfilling a pledge made at last month's party centenary convention, to reroot the party among India's masses and "to cleanse it and make it more operational."
Gandhi appointed a close personal aide, Commerce Minister Arjun Singh, as party vice president and said Singh would have broad authority to run the party.
Increasingly in the past year, many Indians have criticized the party -- a descendant of the Indian National Congress once led by Mohandas K. Gandhi -- for having lost touch with its broad constituency of poor Indians.
The party dominates Indian politics and has governed the country for more than 35 of its 38 years of independence.
Gandhi also named two other Cabinet ministers to senior party posts and said the new leadership will prepare the party's first internal elections in 12 years, planned for next April. Observers said the elections run by Gandhi's new team and his naming of younger activists to head state-level organizations will help him improve his control over party institutions.
During the past four months, Congress (I) has lost elections to local parties in troubled Punjab and Assam states, fueling worries among many party leaders that a decline in its influence is accompanying increased regionalism in Indian politics.
The new party hierarchy will include two former labor leaders in the Cabinet -- Petroleum Minister Naval Kishore Sharma and Labor Minister T. Anjiah -- and a Moslem woman, Najma Heptullah, who is a legislator.
Gandhi said his new appointees and the party elections will rid the organization of those he criticized last month as "brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy."
While political observers suggested that Gandhi's move would win general approval, there was some initial criticism.
"This looks like one of the ad hoc decisions Rajiv has been making in the last year whenever he's been confronted with a major crisis," Prabhu Chawla, an editor of the national biweekly India Today, said.