Normally, an FIR filed by a contractor from Kerala against Congress president Sonia Gandhi would have just been considered a frivolous act. But this particular case is exceptional. It hit the headlines for three reasons:
First, because the contractor also filed a Rs 50 lakh recovery civil suit against Sonia Gandhi.
Second, the case was filed because of default of payment by the state's Congress outfit – which had commissioned construction work to the contractor on a property owned by the party.
Third, the money owed to the contractor, Heather Constructions, was meant for the payment of the building of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Development Studies. The petitioner sought clearance of dues of Rs 2.8 crore in the construction of the institute at Neyyar.
Quoting "party insiders", News18 said in a report that, "dues were not cleared because of an intra-party feud in the Kerala unit of the Congress...Now, KPCC says it has no money for the project which was cleared by former state unit president Ramesh Chennithala during his tenure. But the current KPCC chief says the party does not have the money and there is no need for the institute."
What Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief has said is very significant, that his "party does not have money". Nothing could be more interesting than that – a party which ruled Kerala only till about a fortnight ago is practically saying that it thought that a contractor was supposed to build a building for it for free – as entitlement of the ruling party. If one were to take his statement on face value, one would wonder how did the mighty Congress suddenly go bankrupt, unable to pay for a project which was close to the heart of its central high command.
The other connotation of his reported statement is even more significant – that Congress no longer needed the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Development Studies. The question is that why the existence of this institute, named after a leading light of the Nehru-Gandhi family, has now become worthless for the party? That too when this institute was inaugurated by no less a person than Sonia Gandhi in October 2015.
In a legal notice to Sonia Gandhi, Managing Partner of Heather Constructions, Rajeev refers to a series of agreements signed between November 2012 to April 2013 and adds "the property in which building constructed was purchased through sale deed No.798/10 of Ottashekheramangalam sub registrar office in favour of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee of Indian National Congress headed by Smt Sonia Gandhi represented by its state President Ramesh Chennithala." News18 published a copy of that notice.
Other leaders named in the legal notice included Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Development Studies Chairman Ramesh Chennithala, former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president VM Sudheeran.
Sensing that this could cause huge embarrassment to Sonia and the Congress party, Chennithala said on CNN-News18 that the case had to be settled out of court.
Incidentally, the construction company decided to pursue a legal course against the Congress president and other party leaders after Congress was ousted out of power in the state. The ruling CPM in Kerala dismissed any speculation around its role in the FIR.
That should be a reason for worry for the Grand Old Party. The Nehru-Gandhi family is already on the adverse side of public perception in the National Herald and AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, and can ill afford another controversy, that too around the non-payment of legitimate dues.
Loss of power at the Centre – with numbers reduced to a humiliating count of 44, losing state after state, implosion in various state units, senior leaders deserting the party states across the nation – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, and so on – after raising a banner of revolt against the attitude of the central leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi has not bode well for the party.
In last few days, former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi in Chhatisgarh left the party, former union minister Gurdas Kamat left the party and in Tripura, six Congress MLAs left Congress to join the Trinamool Congress. In Manipur, the Congress party is facing internal dissension. The biennial Rajya Sabha polls on June 11 could further expose chinks in Congress' armour.
Few days earlier in an interview to Firstpost, Congress MP Satyavrat Chaturvedi had dwelt at length at what plagues the party. He said, "The process of accountability has weakened in the organisation. That is affecting the party. As a result of this, we have lost direction. We have drifted away from the path that we should have taken....Congress was always identified as an organisation that championed the weaker and underprivileged sections of society,"
"In the last few years, this identity has been broken (khandit hui hai). Congress’ image, as it is perceived to be now, is that of an elite class party. Dalits have gone away from us. The minorities which were with us since independence chose to move away; workers, farmers were the classes which were inseparable from us. But that is not so any longer, all these classes represented our core," Chaturvedi said.
The Congress has too many problems to resolve to halt its disintegration. But the party at large is still caught in the old debate – whether it's time for Rahul Gandhi to succeed his mother and elevate himself to Congress president's post.