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Cong veteran digs claws into Rahul

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Gufran-e-Azam at his residence in Bhopal on Monday. Picture by Saeed Faruqui

Bhopal/New Delhi, July 14: A former Rajya Sabha MP today claimed he has written to Sonia Gandhi requesting a candid introspection on the Congress’s election rout before going on to question her son’s political aptitude, as fresh disquiet brewed within the party.

Gufran-e-Azam’s comments came a day after a “fact-finding” panel headed by former defence minister A.K. Antony sought to give a “clean chit” to Rahul Gandhi, refusing to blame the AICC vice-president for the party’s 2014 performance, its worst ever in a parliamentary election.

The Congress ended with just 44 MPs, unsure even of the post of leader of Opposition in the 540-plus Lok Sabha.

Azam, once a close associate of Rahul’s late uncle Sanjay Gandhi, said he has written to the Congress chief seeking a frank evaluation and elections at all levels of party posts. The 68-year-old went on to say that he does not recognise Rahul as vice-president because he was “nominated” to the post.

“Rahul thought the Youth Congress is a lab and did experiments and destroyed it,” Azam said, speaking at his residence in Bhopal, adding that he did the same with the Congress.

In Madhya Pradesh politics, Azam is perceived to be close to AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh.

Azam said he was tired of hearing people refer to Rahul as “Pappu” and “Munna”, proper names used in a derogatory sense about a person’s abilities. “Sharam aati hai (feel ashamed),” he added.

The veteran said he wrote to Sonia on July 11 but had not received any response yet. “I am not a rebel. But I sincerely wish to ask Soniaji — why is she imposing her son on us? It has been 10 years but Rahul has not learnt to speak properly.”

Azam said while he “understands” Sonia’s sentiments in trying to make Rahul a “success”, she should advise him to move to some other field. “I have seen the grooming of both Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi is not cut out for politics,” he said.

“(Narendra) Modi’s prediction was right, he has crushed the Congress,” Azam, who was youth Congress general secretary under Ambika Soni during the Sanjay Gandhi era, added. “The party did not see it coming, I warned but no one listened.”

There was no immediate response to Azam’s criticism either from the AICC or the Madhya Pradesh Congress.

In private, however, some Congress leaders in Delhi and Bhopal pointed out that Azam’s outburst came a day after Antony reportedly prepared a report on what led to the election drubbing.

Antony is said to have mentioned factors such as factionalism, corruption and price rise but reportedly avoided citing Rahul’s leadership. In the run-up to the polls, Rahul had been given charge of handling important aspects of electioneering like campaign, advertisements and selection of candidates.

Besides Antony, Mukul Wasnik, Avinash Pande and R.C. Khuntia are members of the AICC panel that was assigned the task of finding the causes of the defeat.

This is not the first time that Antony has headed a party panel to look into a poll debacle. In 1999, he had submitted a report to Sonia giving reasons for the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections that were fought under her leadership. The party’s final tally then was 114.

Antony is expected to submit his written report, marked for “Sonia Gandhi’s eyes only”, later this month.