New Delhi: Acting on a report submitted earlier in the week by Praveen Chakravarty, chairman of the Data Analytics Department of the Congress, that the 2019 Parliamentary elections had been rigged by manipulating the EVMs, Rahul Gandhi is determined on launching a country-wide non-cooperation movement against the Central government. The game plan appears to be of questioning the legitimacy of the government, besides boycotting the forthcoming Assembly elections, while simultaneously demanding paper ballots.
His views are at variance with those of several senior leaders, who have drawn the attention of the central leadership to the grave consequences of steering clear of the polls, which could lead to the Congress space being usurped by regional parties in the states. However, Rahul seems convinced by the explanation provided by Chakravarty, who was asked to justify how his assessment regarding the poll outcome (164-184 seats) was absolutely off the mark. He believes that the only way forward was to take the BJP head-on and commence a movement for restoration of the paper ballot.
UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi is sceptical of the idea and had sought the viewpoint of senior colleagues on the subject. Most of them opposed any such programme and were of the opinion that the Congress claim would further erode its credibility, raising doubts of the party’s victory last year
in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Chakravarty, whose own credentials have been questioned by party leaders, has informed Rahul that the new EVMs, purchased during the past one year, had been tampered with.
Ahmed Patel, who has all along been Sonia Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenant, has cautioned the leadership of the far-reaching repercussions. He, thereafter, was not invited to any of the crucial meetings held throughout the week, leading to speculation whether the former political adviser was on his way out or was deliberately maintaining a low profile. Patel, who is currently the Congress treasurer, was not present at the strategy session on Tuesday morning and his absence was conspicuous at other official meetings, though he left for Ahmedabad on Wednesday evening for the hearing of a case in the High Court regarding his Rajya Sabha election.
In fact the conjecture about his future role started doing the rounds when he, unlike all senior leaders, did not take to Twitter to send greetings to Rahul Gandhi on his 49th birthday. Clearly, the all-powerful aide of Sonia Gandhi, who virtually has run the party for the major part of her long tenure, does not share a similar rapport with Rahul. However, Congress insiders refused to believe that Patel was being marginalised by the leadership, since he has always been viewed as indispensible. Sources clarified that Patel had been unwell and earlier in the month had even been hospitalised. “He will bounce back”, a senior leader stated.
The party’s rout in the polls has resulted in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra dismissing her secretary and former IAS officer, Dheeraj Srivastava earlier in the week. Srivastava has been held accountable for the Amethi debacle, since his behaviour in the constituency was perceived to be rude and abrasive. An upset Srivastava is trying to come to terms with his plight. However, partymen in Amethi have directly accused Priyanka of being both non-cooperative and arrogant. Meanwhile, she has appointed Sandeep Singh, formerly of the All India Students Association (AISA) in JNU as her new aide.
Sources said that the entire unit of the Congress in Rae Bareli from where Sonia Gandhi was elected has resigned after Priyanka had some days ago criticised them for not putting in their best for the success of the party. Congress activists have told local leaders that they were in no position to show up in their respective villages as residents were ridiculing them. AICC general secretary Jyotirditya Scindia has tried to intervene in order to pacify them. Party strongman Akhilesh Singh is also very perturbed with Priyanka and is understood to have met the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath. He has offered to strengthen the BJP in Rae Bareli provided his daughter was suitably accommodated in some position.
Realising that there was a grave crisis on her hands, Sonia Gandhi has stepped in and is trying to restore some semblance in the party. The appointment of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha is also being interpreted as a step taken by the high command to provide an opportunity to state level functionaries, who have not been granted due recognition at the national level. Chowdhury was virtually handpicked by Sonia Gandhi for the new role, given that Rahul was reluctant to even accept this position after making up his mind to resign as the party president, taking full responsibility for the dismal showing. His name was also suggested by a very senior leader, who has also held an important Constitutional position.
Congress leaders are also attempting to ascertain as to who had introduced Praveen Chakravarty, the controversial head of the Data Analytics Department, to Rahul. Chakravarty is understood to have been on a panel of the Niti Aayog in September 2017, a position he could not have held unless he had been close to someone in the ruling dispensation. Sources said that he was promoted by a former powerful minister of the UPA era, who came in contact with him after his name was recommended by another powerful entity in the BJP dispensation.
What has come as a surprise for most Congress activists is, how could someone whose credentials had not been adequately scrutinised, be given a position in the Congress president’s office. Although, after the publication of The Sunday Guardian report last week (Rahul’s own team fed his PM hopes right up to poll defeat), Chakravarty tweeted on Monday claiming that he was an integral part of the Congress. Several senior leaders observed that he was clearly a BJP mole and thereby his continuation in office had become untenable. His subsequent report on the Congress failure was misleading and could further jeopardise the party’s future.
Rahul has resisted all efforts to review his own decision of resigning and has therefore started meeting senior leaders. He has made it amply clear that he will play no role in naming his successor but will be simply working as a Congressman and Member of Parliament. He met the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Friday and earlier had an interaction with some other Chief Ministers and senior party functionaries. During one of these meetings, a former Chief Minister confronted him for sidelining state leaders. The former CM told him that reference to Congress workers could not be brought in without acknowledging the fact that they were attached to some leader or the other, who looked after their welfare. In other words, to speak about workers minus the leaders they were associated with, was both deceptive and misleading.
The Congress leadership had earlier drawn important lessons from the recent Lok Sabha polls and had virtually taken a decision of projecting Chief Minister candidates ahead of every Assembly election. Effectively, it means that for Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Delhi, the party would have a state level face to lead the campaign. This is in sharp contrast with the party’s policy of not projecting anyone with the noted exceptions of Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab and Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh. In Delhi, Rahul’s preferred choice has always been the 82-year-old Sheila Dikshit, whose resignation has been demanded by many of her colleagues, given the inability of the party to win any seat from the national capital. However, if Rahul exerts pressure on the party to boycott the polls, the Congress could face the prospects of a possible split; at least one former CM is toying with the idea of floating his own regional party.
In order to assert its authority, the high command has come down with a heavy hand in Karnataka where it has suspended seven-time MLA and former minister Roshan Baig and has dissolved the state unit. Party veterans declared that the central leadership should not act in haste, since it would end up alienating loyal Congress activists, who had been sidelined by former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who had come into the party fold from the Janata Dal. They accused Siddaramaiah of targeting Congress leaders who on major issues did not see eye-to-eye with him.
In Punjab, where Navjot Singh Sidhu has pitted himself against Captain Amarinder Singh, after being relieved of some portfolios, the Congress leadership has prudently decided to wait and watch. At the moment, the overriding priority appears to be of keeping the flock together, while making changes in states where the organisation needs to be overhauled. After taking over, Rahul’s successor would have to deal with a plethora of issues.