New Delhi, March 10: A major complaint Rahul Gandhi received during his interactions with Congress office-bearers over the past few weeks was that undue importance was being given to “outsiders”, or those who have come from other parties.
Although Rahul acknowledged the grievance, there seems to be no remedy.
The need to accommodate leaders from other parties was a compulsion Sonia Gandhi had faced when she was struggling to rejuvenate a disintegrating organisation. Since then, many outsiders have got plum posts.
Rahul, who faced the anger of party loyalists on this issue at the recent Jaipur Chintan Shivir, was again confronted with this question during a visit to Mumbai where a senior leader targeted Mohan Prakash, the AICC leader in charge of Maharashtra.
Prakash, who had criticised Indira Gandhi during his stint with the Janata Dal, is one of the rising stars of the Congress. Important states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kashmir are under his charge.
Ironically, Prakash was promoted in the party by Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and general secretary Janardan Dwivedi, both of whom have now expressed concern at the growing clout of outsiders.
Prakash has since outgrown his mentors and become close to Rahul.
Another outsider, Madhusudan Mistry, one of the general secretaries, is also an important member of Rahul’s team.
In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, fought under Rahul’s guidance, the party’s core team included Beni Prasad Verma, Rashid Masood, P.L. Punia, Raj Babbar and Raja Ram Pal — all outsiders. Prakash headed the committee for screening candidates.
Rahul, who is said to have realised that relying on outsiders at the cost of loyalists could be counterproductive, has begun to value loyal Congress leaders who sustained the party through all kinds of crises. But he is hardly in a position to cleanse the system, though senior leaders hope the new party vice-president will be cautious with key appointments.
At a recent interaction at the AICC, Rahul was told he should distinguish between those who are in the Congress and those who have the Congress in them.
Sonia had made Jaipal Reddy the face of the Congress before 2004. Reddy was the most incisive weapon in the hands of the Opposition during the Bofors controversy and his choice had led to a lot of heartburn in the Congress.
Among the leaders who usually interact with the media on behalf of the Congress now are Renuka Chowdhury, Rashid Alvi and Sanjay Nirupam, all outsiders.
Shankersinh Vaghela and Siddaramaiah are the Congress’s legislature party leaders in Gujarat and Karnataka. Both come from anti-Congress backgrounds.
Sources said the leadership was aware the problem has to be dealt with carefully as the party needed to expand its base and attract talent from outside.
There is another shade to the outsider problem that has begun to worry the leadership. This relates to nominating leaders to the Rajya Sabha from states they don’t belong to.
Apart from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is an MP from Assam, important functionaries and ministers like Karan Singh, Jairam Ramesh, Janardan Dwivedi, Anand Sharma and Rajiv Shukla have been accommodated from states they don’t belong to.
At a recent meeting with Rajasthan MPs, Rahul had joked about outsiders on seeing Anand Sharma and Chandresh Kumari Katoch, who originally come from Himachal, indicating that he was aware of the issue.