A fresh attack from a close relative of the Vadra family on Rahul Gandhi, shortly before his elevation as Congress president clearly reflects that many are not pleased with this imminent development. Shehzad Poonawalla, younger brother of Tehseen Poonawalla, who is married to Robert Vadra’s cousin, took everyone by surprise by questioning the legitimacy of the process through which Rahul is going to be elected as party president. Although Tehseen and his wife Monika have publicly dissociated themselves from Shehzad, the spectacle regarding the falling out of the two brothers is being viewed as nothing less than a dramatised attempt to cast a shadow over Rahul’s election. Firstly, both the Poonawalla brothers are virtually non-entities in the Congress party and are, at best, peripheral players. If one of them is an office bearer of the Maharashtra Congress, it is because both of them enjoyed the patronage of Vadra—a grave mistake on the leadership’s part. Secondly, both of them have been appearing regularly on TV channels on behalf of the Congress, thereby creating the impression that they were voicing the party’s official line. Their electronic appearances have surprised many within the organisation as well, but due to their close proximity to a section of the family, no one has come forth to question their credentials.

The Poonawalla brothers, like some others, who represent the party in media debates, are not well-versed with either the traditions or the background of the Congress. They are suave speaking individuals, who seem to have caught the imagination of TV anchors, ever looking for opportunities to showcase the Congress in dim-light. The party leadership and the media department are also at fault in being unable to send a clear-cut signal to the channels on the official list of spokespersons, who would present the party’s view-point.

There is little doubt that in its 132-year-long history, the Congress is going through an exceptionally lean phase. Ironically, it has 45 MPs in the Lok Sabha, but over 65 designated spokespersons. It has, during the past decade or so, overlooked the need to strengthen the organisational network, and thus, has been losing one election after the other on account of its short-sighted, myopic vision. Shehzad Poonawalla, has, in purposely leaked emails, pointed out that the organisational election process was flawed and so therefore supplied an unfair advantage to Rahul Gandhi since “yes men” alone would ensure his victory. The attempt is to supposedly highlight that Rahul would not be an undisputed leader of the party, and even those who were considered his supporters were discontented over his appointment, described “as selection”, in place of “an election”.

Shehzad, is understood, to be rather thick with a former minister sharing a good rapport with the Vadra family by virtue of his multi-tasking capabilities. Therefore, to believe that Shehzad is a “lone wolf”, who has acted on his own, would be a completely delusional act. It is crystal clear that he has been prompted by some person or group to publicly challenge Rahul’s election and thus the motivation is at the behest of power centres within the grand old party who are being threatened by this handing over of baton.

Shehzad, inadvertently, has also attacked Sonia Gandhi when he has claimed that sycophants would obviously not vote in accordance to their own free will, but would go out of the way to accede to the wishes of those who have appointed them. Those familiar with the functioning of the Congress know that various decision making bodies of the party, including the working committee, are packed with people who have been hand-picked by Sonia Gandhi, primarily because they were seen to be pliant.

The last elections to the working committee were held in the early 1990s in Tirupati, when P.V. Narasimha Rao was both the Congress president and Prime Minister. He, too, had then demanded the resignations of all the elected members and after accepting their quit requests, nominated them to the body to demonstrate that his leadership was supreme.

Sonia Gandhi has been the party overseer for nearly 20 years, but no effort has been made to either hold elections or constitute the Congress Parliamentary Board, the highest body as per the party’s constitution. These matters are well-known facts, though have not even been flagged by senior Congress functionaries. However, during the past few days, elements which were pointedly responsible for the poor plight of the party, but had managed to seamlessly shift the blame on Rahul, have once again become vocal. Their utterances are designed to lay the focus on a religious debate which would pit the secularists against the communalists. This is being done knowing full well that a religious discourse on the eve of the Gujarat polls would sway in favour of the BJP and thus to Rahul’s disadvantage. Shehzad Poonawalla seems to be serving all these deep-seated vested interests. Rahul, during the next phase of his political journey, will have to face mammoth challenges. If he has to succeed, he should free the party from the shackles of Sonia’s coterie, while simultaneously declaring that his first priority would be to strengthen the organisation. He would do better in playing the role of a facilitator for the alliance partners instead of being the face of a possible coalition. The next parliamentary polls would be between the Modi of 2014 versus the Modi of 2019. Rahul, thus, should formulate his strategy accordingly. Between us.

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