New Delhi: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has once again got her political calculations wrong, and again because of her personal secretary Sandeep Singh, say sources. Her bus politics amid the corona crisis cut no ice with a large and significant section of the Congress. This is the second time that her politics seems to have damaged the Congress politically. Last time, while opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), she had gone to the extent of what was dubbed as practising “minority appeasement” politics. Sources say that she had taken recourse to such politics on the advice of her personal secretary. It’s for the first time in Congress that a personal secretary has started setting the political agenda of a leader, and, that too in a short span of time.
Sandeep Singh was in the headlines last year when he had a tiff with the media. And then recently, some audio tapes went viral in which he was heard talking to party workers in a threatening tone. His appointment itself was mired in controversy. Hailing from Pratapgarh, Sandeep Singh made his political debut with the ultra-left, Naxal outfit CPIML. He was once JNUSU president from the Naxal outfit’s students’ body, AISA. At the time, he used to oppose Congress vociferously. Interestingly, the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi picked him up to be in his team, irrespective of his views against Congress. Sources say it was Singh’s idea to make crowds repeat the slogan “Chowkidar Chor Hai” in the run-up to the 2019 elections. However, a big group within the Congress wasn’t happy with the slogan. Sandeep Singh used to prepare most of Rahul Gandhi’s speeches. After the Lok Sabha debacle, Rahul Gandhi was upset with leaders who didn’t support his “chowkidar” slogan. When Rahul resigned as president of the Congress, Sandeep Singh was appointed in Priyanka’s team. One Dheeraj Shrivastava of Allahabad was looking after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s work during the Lok Sabha polls. A Rajasthan cadre IAS officer, Dheeraj Shrivastava had joined Sonia Gandhi’s team in 2004.
Sonia Gandhi had appointed him as secretary in the National Advisory Council. It was then only that Dheeraj was given responsibilities of Amethi and Rae Bareli. He joined Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s team after Congress was defeated in 2014. He was catapulted to the limelight when Priyanka sent him to Lucknow for alliance talks with Samajwadi Party. The decision to ally with SP was Priyanka’s and the Congress faced it worst ever debacle in the 2017 Assembly elections. She got active as general secretary during the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and played a crucial role in allocating tickets. Dheeraj Shrivastava continued with her, but was replaced with Sandeep Singh after the poll defeat.
Sources allege that after the 2019 results, Priyanka’s relations with Jyotiraditya Scindia started turning sour, and Sandeep Singh took advantage of this, hastening all decisions with his own involvement. His was an important role in the new team in Uttar Pradesh.
This is also for the first time in the history of the Congress that leaders have no say in organisational matters. Beginning from Indira Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi, never before has a personal secretary so openly got involved in decision making. All decisions were taken by the political leaders. No name ever came out, whether it was V. George or Madhavan. Even Dheeraj Shrivastava never got conspicuous by his open involvement in decisions like Sandeep Singh has done.
Congress leaders are not happy with Priyanka’s rhetoric. They saw in Priyanka’s stand against CAA support for a particular community and thus deviating from Rahul’s soft Hindutva line. Similarly, a faction of the Congress didn’t buy her “bus politics”. The migrants’ issue was not confined to just one state—in fact Congress ruled states are facing the same problem. Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab and Chhattisgarh governments are sending labourers by buses. The bus drama laid bare the fact that both sides were doing politics.