Wanna be Rahul's Man Friday? Turf war begins in Congress

With Sonia Gandhi endorsing Rahul's campaign against the BSP government and dubbing Mayawati's rule as Andher Nagri (lawless rule) in Varanasi where a two-day Uttar Pradesh Congress session concluded on Thursday, the battle for UP has truly begun.

As Congress strives to win UP assembly polls next year, party leaders silently jostle to become adviser to Rahul Gandhi. Reuters

The state sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and its significance in the context of the 2014 national elections cannot be over emphasized.

The contours of the Congress-BSP face-off are in public domain and considering the high stakes involved no one's doubting that next year's UP elections will be a no-holds-barred mother of all political battles.

While this battle for UP will be fought under full media glare, there's another critical combat — this one for strategic supremacy—underway within the Congress party. Only there's nothing overt and public about it. But this hush-hush struggle is no less intense, cut throat and crucial as it may well make or mar the political prospects of several senior Congress leaders in the foreseeable future.

A number of senior party leaders are jockeying to become Rahul Gandhi’s political secretary or principal political advisor. The post is not advertised, it's unlikely that the party's Prince is even looking for one at this stage but as it often happens in sagas of palace politics and imperial intrigues, Congress politicians have started positioning themselves for what has the potential of becoming the most important seat in the durbar.

So another battle has been flagged off; this one to become Rahul Gandhi's "Ahmed Patel". Everyone in the Congress party is fully aware of Ahmed bhai's clout as the political secretary to Sonia Gandhi.

Congressmen believe that Rahul Gandhi's  recent UP foray is an indication that the Congress general secretary will be making more forceful interventions in party affairs from here on.

A statement from party veteran and Indira Gandhi loyalist, RK Dhawan, advising Rahul Gandhi to be careful while choosing advisors is being seen in the context of this unfolding contest to become the eyes and ears of a leader-in-waiting.

The power of such advisors and hangers-on is immense in a party like the Congress and perhaps there cannot be a more apt example than stenographer turned politician RK Dhawan to appreciate the point.

As a glorified gatekeeper to Indira Gandhi's office he not only enjoyed her trust, but wielded immense clout because he also regulated access to the all powerful leader.

So a fresh controversy has now been sparked off in the Congress party following Dhawan's comments about how Rahul should learn from the mistakes of Rajiv Gandhi and not appoint relatives and friends (like Arun Nehru and Arun Singh) as advisors and ministers.

The big question is, who is Dhawan hinting at when he warns Rahul against making the same mistakes as his father.

Is it party general secretary in-charge of UP, Digvijay Singh, who in any case is at the receiving end of jealous barbs from several party heavyweights because of his proximity to Rahul?

Singh also does not make things any easier for himself both by courting controversy on sensitive issues involving minorities especially Muslims and also by publicly taking on high profile leaders like the Home Minister P Chidambram, whom he charged of intellectual arrogance last year in a signed article in The Economic Times.

For the record Digvijay Singh refused to react to Dhawan's statements saying that he did not wish to comment on the statement of a senior party leader.

There is a section within the party, which is gunning for Digvijay Singh, blaming the veteran for not stopping Rahul from putting his foot in the mouth when he referred to the killings and rapes in the UP village of Bhatta Parsaul. Those claims are now turning out to be embarrasingly exaggerated.

But then there are those who defend him as well and see a silver lining in each dark cloud. These Congress leaders believe that it would be wrong to think that Rahul Gandhi can be tutored by anyone let alone guided by anyone on an issue which he was examining first hand.

There's quite a vocal section within the party which also believes that too much is being made of the Rahul Gandhi faux pas.

“There's little doubt the villagers are still traumatised and the stories of police atrocities in the area are real. What is important is that with Rahul taking the lead, an all but defunct party organisation in Uttar Pradesh has been rejuvenated and in one stroke we have occupied the space of the principal opposition party to Mayawati's BSP.”

This battle of one-upmanship both for eyeballs in UP as well as proximity to the Congress’s heir apparent is only likely to intensify in the coming weeks.

Published Date: May 20, 2011 12:27 pm | Updated Date: May 20, 2011 05:38 pm