Since the time he quit the Sena in 2005, his rise in the Congress has been meteoric. He has been an MP in both Houses of Parliament, held various organisational posts at the AICC and served as Mumbai Congress chief. After all, he was a “street fighter” — an ability that is considered rare in the party. It was widely perceived that he had Rahul Gandhi ka haath and Rahul Gandhi ka saath with him. He takes pride in claiming that he is close to Rahul and is not averse in openly flaunting his proximity to the former Congress president.
And so, if he says something about the Congress, its high command, manner of functioning or how it has drifted — with a prediction that the party is heading to doom in the upcoming election, his words can’t be dismissed as the rant of a disgruntled soul.
Nirupam has long been an insider and close to the leadership, at least when Rahul was in command. What he said publicly when making a distinction between the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress and the Rahul-led Congress becomes significant because he has articulated what was being privately discussed in political circles ever since Rahul quit the post of Congress president and his mother returned from semi-retirement to succeed her son.
The former Mumbai Congress president is the first leader of standing who has openly said that an internal war is raging within the Congress — that the ‘Sonia Congress’ is out to finish the ‘Rahul Congress’. Even though he still hedged his words saying that the Congress president (Sonia) was being misled by her advisors, his message — that her actions were actually causing irreparable harm to the Congress in the immediate and long term — was not lost . Factional intrigue and conspiracy has become the order of the day in the party.
“Those who occupied high offices in the AICC and used to conspire against Rahul are today running the party. They are misleading the Congress president,” Nirupam said. He had his own list of grievances with regard to how he was marginalised, how he had no communication with those who are calling the shots now, how none of his recommendations were taken seriously and that the person who was given a crucial ticket was an inactive 77-year-old leader. But what he was saying needs to be examined with a broader perspective.
He specially mentioned Haryana and Maharashtra, two states going to the polls.
In Haryana, Ashok Tanwar, a Dalit and Rahul loyalist was removed from the post of state party president days ahead of the announcement of elections in the state and old guard Kumari Shailja, another Dalit was made party president, while Bhupinder Singh Hooda was made Leader of Opposition in an assembly which had for all practical purposes had expired. Shailja is close to Sonia and the world has seen how she was by her side when some years ago, the Congress president had suddenly begun to feel uneasy and was taken to hospital. Hooda was Haryana chief minister for 10 years while Sonia was president. Hooda is known to have granted favours in the National Herald case and Robert Vadra land deals.
Tanwar had led a protest in front of Sonia’s 10 Janpath residence — something that happened for the first time. So far, only celebrations had been held in front of Sonia’s residence and all protests had taken place in front of the Congress office.
Nirupam demanded that “it should be investigated who is doing all this”. Sonia, as party president, should initiate this investigation and Rahul, as person of immense clout and acceptability do this investigation. The party is imploding in all states and at the Centre, and for once it seems like three members of the party’s ‘First Family’ are going in different directions.
The fact that Sonia agreed to head the party even after Rahul’s public proclamation that no one from Gandhi family would succeed him had given rise to speculation that Rahul’s words perhaps didn’t hold that much authority within the family, or that his mother had chosen to disregard his supposedly idealistic announcement. She seemed to be guided by practical considerations that a Gandhi must be at the helm in Congress to keep the family relevant.
The coterie around her that practically ruled the party for two decades under her command and was feeling sidelined during Rahul’s short regime, bounced back into action. That in turn saw the marginalisation of the coterie around Rahul, that had tasted power and influence during his tenures as general secretary, vice-president and president.
There are questions as to whether a Tanwar or Nirupam could have attacked Sonia’s leadership without support from some other powerful quarters. It is as yet unclear whether we will get the answers to those questions any time soon.