The events during the run-up to the counting revealed that either Rahul Gandhi was of an over-trusting nature or was too gullible in perceiving how smooth-talking individuals were leading him up the garden path.
New Delhi: There has been intense speculation regarding the reasons that forced Rahul Gandhi to resign as the Congress president, the foremost being that he was misled by his own team, and made to believe that his party was securing between 164 and 184 seats in the recent Parliamentary elections. Based on this inaccurate information, he is understood to have contacted UPA allies such as M.K. Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, Omar Abdullah, Sharad Pawar and Tejashwi Yadav amongst others, and offered to accommodate some of them in the next Cabinet.
He is reported to have even obtained two letters from a senior legal eagle to enable him to stake claim to form the next government. A victory procession was also planned to celebrate the exit of the BJP, which of course did not happen, though instructions to a select few Delhi leaders were passed on to mobilise and assemble a crowd of nearly 10,000 people outside the AICC office on 24, Akbar Road. Given that the assessment of the Congress party went completely askew, resulting in a huge loss of face, Rahul had no option but to put in his papers. Currently, he is in England and is expected to be back early next week in time for both the commencement of the Parliament session as also his birthday on 19 June.
To make matters worse, Praveen Chakravarty, who was his most trusted aide, looking after the election office and data-analysis, besides running the Shakti app, is missing from the scene. A day after the election results were announced he has been incommunicado and efforts by senior leaders to contact him have failed miserably. Incidentally, he had not even provided the Congress with the hard disc of the data he had collected, for which he is alleged to have presented a bill of Rs 24 crore. Senior leaders in the party are suspecting that Chakravarty, who played a role similar to the one played by Prashant Kishor for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Parliamentary elections, could have been a BJP mole in the Congress office.
In fact, four of the eight persons working in the Congress president’s office have resigned. In addition to Chakravarty, Divya Spandana, who, her detractors claim, charged the party nearly Rs 8 crore, is also untraceable; she has also deleted her Twitter and Instagram accounts. The events during the run-up to the counting have revealed that either Rahul Gandhi was of an over-trusting nature or was too gullible in perceiving how smooth-talking individuals were leading him up the garden path. It is not only he alone, but both Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra too appeared convinced that the Congress was returning to power, raising questions whether the family was living in some sort of a la-la land.
Informed sources stated that Chakravarty had met Rahul on 21 May, on the day of Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary, and had given him a list of 184 potential winners of the Congress, along with their respective constituencies and projected margins. Rahul was told that 184 was the number, but if things turned out to be slightly inadequate, it, in any case, would not be less than 164. The data was double-checked by the Congress president’s office, and Rahul asked his office to make a list of nearly “100 first-time MPs”, who he was not familiar with, since they had worked at the state level. He further instructed for a separate list of likely losers to be drafted out as well. The second list included prominent leaders such as Mallikarjun Kharge, Pawan Bansal, Harish Rawat, Ajay Maken etc., whom he wanted to be part of the next government.
A day before the counting of votes, and buoyed by the documentation supplied by Chakravarty, Rahul and Priyanka got to work. The two started contacting potential allies and key leaders of their own party. Rahul is reported to have phoned M.K. Stalin and conveyed to him his desire to induct him in the future Cabinet as Home Minister. Sharad Pawar was requested to be a part of the dispensation, since his presence would provide gravitas. Akhilesh Yadav was also offered an important berth, after being asked how many seats the Mahagathbandhan was winning in Uttar Pradesh. Akhilesh Yadav put the figure at 40-plus and asked for Congress numbers in the state, appearing amused when conveyed that the party was winning nine, which included Rae Bareli and Amethi, besides Kanpur, Unnao, Fatehpuri Sikri, etc. Tejashwi Yadav’s assessment was that the Congress could touch the five- to six-mark in Bihar, while his party would be obtaining nearly 20-plus. Omar Abdullah was confident that the National Conference could win three, while Congress may go through in Udhampur, from where Dr Karan Singh’s son, Vikramaditya was contesting.
At the same time, Priyanka, who had an early dinner with Rahul at a South Indian restaurant in Chanakyapuri, was doing her bit. She rang up Congress Chief Ministers and asked them to send the list of potential ministers from their respective states. It could not be ascertained if the CMs actually sent in names or were taken aback by this call.
Two close advisers to Rahul, including a former Union Minister and his personal secretary K. Raju went to the residence of a well-known senior attorney in South Delhi to get two drafts prepared for the President of India. One draft was specific to the Congress staking claim directly and the second one was formulated to support any of the UPA allies. The two letters were delivered at the Congress president’s office.
So certain and assured were the Gandhis of victory that a press conference on the day of counting was also planned, following which a victory march was to take place outside the Congress headquarters. Everything went off-centre when the results started pouring in.
Sources said that the reason for Rahul and Priyanka criticising the Chief Ministers at the Congress Working Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago was because they were misled by some of them. Earlier, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had stated that the Congress could possibly win between 14 and 16 out of 25 from his state, but the winners may not include his son. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Kamal Nath, presented his figure to around 11 to 15 out of 29. It was only Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who divulged the ground reality and said that the Congress would win only three or four seats. He was complimented for his modest assessment and told that the figure would be 8. AICC treasurer, Ahmed Patel, was asked for his estimation regarding Gujarat, and is understood to have conveyed to Rahul that the Congress was unlikely to win any seat from there, a matter which displeased the Congress president.
The entire edifice of the proposed government formation was built on inaccurate evaluation, which has been a brutal blow to the Congress president. Rahul was so sure of success in both the constituencies he was contesting from—Amethi and Wayanad—that he asked Priyanka to contest from Amethi, once he vacated the seat. On her part, Priyanka has been admonishing workers, and telling UP leaders that they should “now prepare only for 2029 elections” given that they had let the party grievously down.
According to reliable sources, Priyanka withdrew herself at the eleventh hour from a possible fight from Varanasi, thereby upsetting Rahul’s overall poll plans for UP. She and her husband, Robert Vadra, communicated to Rahul that beginning her political career with a loss in her kitty would not warrant well. When Rahul insisted, she asked him to contest from the seat instead. Earlier, Shatrughna Sinha had offered to contest from Varanasi against the Prime Minister, and had claimed that he had been assured of a Rajya Sabha berth in case he was defeated from the holy city; he was asked to return to Patna Saheb, from where he was reluctant to fight, given that it was a strong traditional BJP seat.
It is perceptible that the Gandhis feel misled and even in some cases betrayed by people whom they banked on. Therefore, it is most unlikely that Rahul will cave in to pressure and withdraw his resignation. Now that his Prime Ministerial hopes have been dashed, Rahul seems to be adamant that he will leave leadership of the battle against Narendra Modi and BJP to someone else.