Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s last minute efforts to prevent the defection of a group of party senior leaders to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana this week have gone in vain. His telephone calls to Congress MP from Nalgonda, Gutta Sukhender Reddy and others on Tuesday to dissuade them from leaving the party failed to cut ice as they came too late and proved too little, according to sources.

Sukhender Reddy, Congress MLA from Miryalaguda N. Bhaskara Rao, former MP G. Vivek and his elder brother and former minister G. Vinod and a dozen other senior leaders quit Congress and joined the ruling TRS in the presence of its president and Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) in Hyderabad on 15 June. Now, a few more Congress MLAs are likely to join TRS.

The Congress high command responded too late to the situation in Telangana where the party was under a poaching onslaught by the TRS. After coming to know of Sukhender Reddy’s defection plans, party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi got into alert mode and summoned Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy to Delhi Monday.

After a series of talks there, Uttam Kumar Reddy was told to ensure that the rebel leaders remained in the party and if necessary, they can be offered party posts and other privileges. AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh and Rahul Gandhi’s key aide and AICC Scheduled Castes cell in charge K. Raju were entrusted with the task of preventing defections in Telangana.

Both Singh and Raju rushed to Hyderabad on Tuesday and convened a meeting of Congress senior leaders and tried to contact Sukhender Reddy and others who were to join TRS on Wednesday. When the rebel leaders refused to meet Singh and Raju to negotiate a settlement, Rahul Gandhi himself swung into action and called up them all.

Interestingly, they received Rahul’s calls, but expressed their inability to continue in Congress. Sukhender Reddy who played an active role in the formation of Telangana state two years ago is learnt to have told Gandhi that he had already made up his mind to join TRS and it was too late to discuss the issue, sources close to the MP told The Sunday Guardian on Friday.

Sukhender Reddy brought to the notice of Rahul Gandhi the poor state of party affairs in Telangana and the internal bickering that forced him to leave. Reddy even refused to postpone his joining TRS to a later date and meet Rahul in Delhi to sort out all issues. Former MP, G. Vivek too did not budge from his decision to quit Congress when Rahul called him.

Sources close to Vivek told this newspaper that the Congress vice-president had offered him a post of AICC secretary and made in charge of a state. But it came too late. “Had the offer come a few months ago, for instance a year ago, it would have satisfied Vivek. But now, when Congress lost power in most states, it matters little,” said an aide of Vivek.

The defection of Vivek and his brother Vinod hurt Congress as their late father and former CWC member G. Venkataswamy was a Dalit face of the party in Telangana. Vivek, as an MP from Peddapalli, first joined TRS in 2013 but later returned to Congress after Telangana was formed. However, they felt isolated in the party after the 2014 defeat.

Vivek tried to contact Rahul Gandhi several times and secure some recognition in the party. Initially, he aspired for an AICC post and later that of the working president of TPCC. Rahul Gandhi offered him the AICC secretary post at the last minute, but it was too late for Vivek to retract from his decision. Now CM KCR is likely to appoint Vivek as an adviser to Telangana government, besides offering an MP ticket in 2019.

The defection of Congress MLA N. Bhaskara Rao too demoralised the Congress in Telangana as he was the trusted lieutenant to Congress Legislature Party leader K. Jana Reddy. Digvijaya Singh and Raju brought pressure on Jana Reddy to retain Bhaskara Rao and offered a party post too. But Rao did not heed their pleas. Digvijaya Singh wanted to take all Congress leaders to Delhi for an exclusive meeting with Rahul Gandhi this week so that their grievances can be sorted out. But the plan was dropped as not many legislators had shown interest. “What is the point of going to Delhi when our MLAs are not ready to trust Rahul Gandhi?” said legislator K. Venkat Reddy.

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