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Fear of Rahul purge sparks Cong jitters

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Many in the Congress are jittery about a purge they fear Rahul Gandhi might carry out to remould the party in his preferred shape.

Insiders who pride themselves on their political insight have been confessing ruefully that it has only now dawned on them why the young Gandhi had kept a “distance” from the main organisation since beginning his political life in January 2004.

It’s to make a purge easier to carry out when the time comes, they say.

The feeling in the party is that only two types of leaders will thrive under Rahul: those capable of winning elections, and cerebral types with a technological-professional background.

If Rahul translates his words into action, the vast numbers of “rootless wonders” who have been banking on loyalty and sycophancy to grab posts will be the worst losers.

For Rahul, a purge would, in a way, represent an unfinished agenda he has inherited from Rajiv Gandhi.

During the Congress centennial in 1985, a 41-year-old Rajiv, his “Mr Clean” image still unscathed in popular perception, had hit out at party power brokers before a gathering at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium.

“Brokers of power and influence who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy,” he had said, “thrive by invoking slogans of caste and religion and by enmeshing the living body of the Congress.”

Rajiv appointed Arjun Singh as vice-president to cleanse the Congress, but the move didn’t bring about the changes he wanted.

The plan to “modernise” the Congress was challenged by party working president Kamlapati Tripathi. The veteran wrote a letter, whose contents were selectively leaked to the media, questioning the efforts.

Tripathi asked Rajiv why “professionals” who were “good for nothing” had been brought into the organisation. Referring to the “power broker” remark — Rajiv had taken no names — Tripathi cited how, when the entire Congress brass had deserted Indira in 1978, he had not been found wanting in loyalty.

The present-day Congress doesn’t lack leaders who want a Rahul-led Congress to taste every electoral success but wish he would fail in his efforts to cleanse the party.

They don’t want him to act as a “judge for all” as he promised on Sunday but as an advocate of identity politics, promoting “talent” only with the tags of caste, sub-caste and religion attached.

Team Rahul, however, is believed to be working on a plan that aims to reward performance and quick response.

Ticket aspirants who can produce excel sheets on “Aadhaar” cardholders and cash-transfer beneficiaries in their constituencies are likely to have the edge over those armed merely with recommendations from regional bosses.

Between 2007 and 2012, Rahul carried out a talent hunt in the Youth Congress and student wing NSUI through questionnaires that sought the exact volume of India’s foreign trade or the number of mobile phone owners in the aspirant’s Assembly segment.

Mathew Kuzhalanandan, then a PhD student at JNU, interacted with Rahul in 2007 expecting questions on the Congress ideology and manifesto. Instead, Rahul asked him about poverty, international trade, and bombings.

“I was taken aback. But it was an inspiring occasion that helped me understand Rahul’s worldview and his way of thinking,” Kuzhalanandan said.