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Cong disowns age proposal

New Delhi, Aug. 29: The Congress today formally distanced itself from the proposal by one of its top leaders that people over the age of 65 should quit active politics, but the debate in the party revolved around the motive, not merit, of the statement.

While Dwivedi was privately pulled up by the top leadership last night, party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said at the formal briefing today: “This is his personal view. He is entitled to his views. This is not the party line.”

Asked if other senior leaders are allowed to express their personal views through the media, Singhvi said: “Not at all.”

But he did not have an answer to why there were different yardsticks for dealing with unauthorised statements — some other leaders have been suspended or publicly rebuked in the past in similar cases.

Dwivedi’s proposal to fix either 65 or 70 as the upper limit for active politics evoked varied responses within the party. While most senior leaders wanted to know what had provoked the “disciplined loyalist” to float this balloon, younger members supported the idea but questioned the need for a media debate on an internal party matter.

Ordinary workers vented their anger, asking why the leaders were not getting active on the ground instead of wasting time in discussion.

Most leaders agreed that Dwivedi was not voicing an innocent idea and described the proposal as a desperate move by a group to protect their space in the high command structure. Rahul’s team nurtures a strong sentiment that the older leaders should step aside but has stopped short of making a formal proposal. It is possible Dwivedi was used as a front to hit back, sources said.

A party general secretary said: “Who is stopping Rahul from making his team? But this can be done without display of antagonism against senior leaders. A harmonious relationship can be evolved between the leaders of two generations. Take everybody along, use all the resources. Why make somebody feel unwanted?”

But other leaders viewed Dwivedi’s move less sympathetically, accusing him of playing a dangerous game of dividing older and younger leaders.

“Rahul has been around for 10 years and he has not thrown out senior leaders. There has been a commitment to accommodation despite differences of opinion. An attempt has now been made to vitiate the atmosphere and stall the structural changes being planned. We should resist such power plays in this hour of unprecedented crisis,” a leader said.

A young AICC secretary spoke a different language. “Why are these leaders entrenched for over three decades not vacating space? Instead of making statements in the media, they should readily step aside and help Rahul rebuild the new structure. They are conspiring to perpetuate status quo. And what is worse, this has come from a leader who has been sidelined. He has wilfully abandoned party discipline because of uncertainty over his own position in the future team.”

Dwivedi appears to have voiced an idea he is intrinsically opposed to and forced it into the public domain to thwart it. Had Rahul made such a proposal, few leaders would have dared oppose it. By presenting it as his own idea, Dwivedi has allowed senior leaders — most of whom are well over 60 — to speak their mind.

The fierce debate might compel Rahul to move cautiously and restructure the organisation on the basis of merit, not age.

An out-of-favour Dwivedi may or may not survive as general secretary but he might have succeeded in protecting some of the other senior leaders, including those who protected him for decades.