NEW DELHI: Even since Rahul Gandhi’s exit as the Congress president after the party was drubbed in the Lok Sabha elections, the rift between the Congress old guard and young Turks has been widening.
With Rahul gone, both the sides are at loggerheads and the young leadership that Rahul tried to nurture has been left to fend for itself, with no support from their one-time mentor.
In the last four months, the party has seen the old guard having its way in key appointments while many of Rahul appointees have either left the party or have been forced to give up the plum posts they got when the Gandhi scion was at the helm.
The MP from Wayanad has distanced himself from the party’s routine affairs, limiting himself to target the Central government on social media platforms.
Entrenched old guard
When the Congress Working Committee met after the poll debacle, the then party chief is learnt to have singled out senior leaders such as Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath and the incarcerated P Chidambaram for criticism for pushing election tickets for their sons.
Rahul felt these leaders epitomized what was wrong in the party and is learnt to have said this was the reason why the party was losing touch with the masses. He then resigned in protest.
According to a young Congress leader, Rahul expected the senior leadership to follow suit but that did not happen.
Instead, it was his cronies and the young leadership that he promoted that quit in solidarity with him.
There were close to 150 resignations of secretaries and other office-bearers but none of the seniors came forward to resign like Rahul did.
His decision to resign got the backing from both mother Sonia and sister Priyanka.
In fact, Priyanka generally holds meetings with party leaders from Uttar Pradesh at Rahul’s official residence. But the refusal of the old guard to take responsibility for the humiliating election defeat left him sulking for weeks.
This was also clear from his resignation letter, wherein he wrote that the party needs to take hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019.
“It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as the president of the party,” he wrote.
During his nearly two-year tenure as the Congress president, Rahul promoted young leaders in the organization, much to the chagrin of senior leaders who were not consulted in the decision-making process.
With Sonia back as the party chief, senior leaders such as Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik are now calling the shots in appointments.
Youth takes beating
The main fallout of Rahul’s exit has been felt in the state leadership he cultivated. Rahul’s men have been pushed to the wall post his exit and many have either been sidelined or have left the party.
Milind Deora, who quit as the Mumbai Congress chief, has been replaced by Eknath Gaikwad and former Mumbai chief Sanjay Nirupam has publically expressed that he has been sidelined in the party and forced to quit.
Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar was removed to placate former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Former Jharkhand party chief Ajoy Kumar, another one who was close to Rahul, left the party and joined the Aam Aadmi Party, levelling serious allegations against the leadership.
Tripura chief Pradyot Debbarman quit following differences with the AICC in-charge of the state. In Punjab, Navjot Singh Siddhu gave up his ministerial berth over differences with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
In Madhya Pradesh, the tussle between Jyotiraditya Scindia and senior leader Digvijaya Singh continues while in Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot are still at daggers drawn.
Senior leaders disagree that Rahul’s team members are being targeted, citing the example of AICC organization general secretary KC Venugopal, Congress Mahila Morcha chief Sushmita Dev, data cell incharge Praveen Chakravarty, Jharkhand in-charge RPN Singh, Odisha in-charge Jitendra Singh and training incharge Sachin Rao.
“It will be unfair to say that his (Rahul’s) team members are being targeted,” said a senior party general secretary.
Even though Rahul has made it clear that he will limit himself to Wayanad, his Lok Sabha constituency, being a former party president it was expected that he would attend the party’s key meetings. But of late he has kept away from such meetings, leaving it to his core team members to attend.
For instance, he did not attend the meeting of AICC general secretaries, the state in charges and MPs chaired by Sonia last month.
The party played it down, saying it was not mandatory for him to attend as he does not hold any party position. But the presence of his team members at the meeting was not lost anyone.
It is said Rahul continues to track things through them.
One of his close aides is now part of Priyanka’s team and he operates from Jawahar Bhawan, the headquarters of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.