After Rahul Gandhi’s election from Amethi in 2004, Kanishka Singh, his political aide, was a constant presence by his side. But of late Singh has not been seen as often at Rahul’s Tughlak Lane residence, leading to speculation that he was out of favour. In fact, Singh was assigned the key task of playing understudy to party treasurer Motilal Vora. The role of Vora, who turns 89 this month, is confined largely to signing cheques. According to insiders, it is Singh who handles the complex financial portfolio of the Congress. Party treasurer is a key position and bestowed only on someone considered completely trustworthy. Vora followed in the footsteps of other loyalists such as Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Ahmed Patel and Sitaram Kesri. Singh is more qualified for the post than any past treasurer —he has an MBA from Wharton and was an investment banker on Wall Street.
Loyalist To Rogue
There are several theories floating around as to how one-time Gandhi loyalist Shehzad Poonawalla turned rogue. His brother Tehseen, his sister-in-law Monicka, who is a cousin of Robert Vadra, and the Maharashtra Congress state unit hastily disowned Shehzad, whose rebellion was mounted on the day the notification for nominations for Congress president came out. The affluent Poonawalla brothers gatecrashed into the inner circles of the Congress shortly after the UPA came to power, through social networking, self-promotion and adopting powerful mentors, ranging from Suresh Kalmadi and Manish Tewari to Digvijaya Singh and Robert Vadra. The Pune and Maharashtra party units were hostile to the outsiders, who wielded clout through their proximity to Delhi. Most in the party suspect that BJP president Amit Shah might be behind Shehzad, in order to embarrass the Congress at a time when Rahul is all set to become party president. Some believe that brother Tehseen, despite protestations, is in the loop as the Poonawallas would like to have a foot in both camps.
Congress candidates lost in all the nagar panchayat elections in Amethi, considered the pocket borough of the Gandhi family. Amit Shah hopes that with Smriti Irani as BJP candidate from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi can be defeated in the next election from there. Apprehending that Amethi could be chancy in 2019, the Congress is contemplating fielding Rahul from two constituencies. An alternative seat being considered is Chikmagalur in Karnataka, which Indira Gandhi had won handsomely in a by-election in 1978, after her famous defeat from Raebareli in 1977. But Chikmagalur is no longer a safe seat for the Congress. After de-limitation, it is now Udupi Chikmagalur and represented by BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa’s protégé Shobha Karandlaje.
The New Order
Because of the large number of youthful Congress spokespersons, goof-ups keep occurring. (For example, denying Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with the Chinese ambassador during the Doklam stand-off or describing Rahul as a janeu-dhari Hindu, when the Gandhis take pride in their secularism). Earlier this year, at the instance of Sonia Gandhi, Janardhan Dwivedi announced the formation of a group of seniors to assist Randeep Surjewala’s communications department. The eight-member team of heavyweights, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh, P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sushmita Dev, was to meet daily and advise on the issues to be taken up by the spokespersons. Some of the members taking their duties seriously spent hours reading the newspapers and making notes. Their labours have been in vain, since the committee has rarely met. The new order does not really want to take advice from the old.
What particularly impressed Rahul Gandhi when he met OBC leader Alpesh Thakor was the fact that the Thakor Sena, of which he was the convener, had 70,000 members and an organisational infrastructure in at least 80 of Gujarat’s 182 Assembly constituencies. Whether the Sena would work for the Congress is a different matter. While Congress leaders view the Sena as an OBC vote catcher, actually Thakor’s prime objective was to campaign against the faulty manner in which prohibition is implemented in the state. Ironically, in one of Thakor’s first public meetings after joining the party, a Congress leader on the dais joked with the audience that people should take the liquor offered by the BJP as an incentive, but vote for the Congress. Thakor was furious. To add to his unhappiness, he finds that local Congresspersons are trying to undercut him, treating him as an outsider. The BJP has fielded a rebel Congressman against him.