The Telegraph
Friday , May 23 , 2014
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Old guard back Rahul as young aide bites

New Delhi, May 22: The Congress old guard that faces the threat of being sidelined in a “generation shift” has come to Rahul Gandhi’s aid a day after his confidant Milind Deora fired the first shot at him in the aftermath of the electoral rout.

While some seniors, known loyalists of Sonia Gandhi, condemned Deora’s open attack as a “betrayal” in off-the-record conversations, many leaders chose to speak publicly against the tendency to blame Rahul.

They argued that this was the time to provide “support and confidence” to Sonia and Rahul, and cited how the Congress had lost under Indira Gandhi and clawed back to power.

Deora, a junior minister in the former Manmohan Singh government, is believed to be very close to Rahul. His comments were published in The Indian Express.

“The question is whether the set of advisers had their ears to the ground. There were strong murmurs in the party that people who are calling the shots are people with no electoral experience, no stature, standing, respect and credibility in the party,” he said.

“They were in charge of important departments and held key positions. This whole group of people did not listen to what party cadres and MPs were saying.”

Deora added: “It is not the advisers alone. The people who take the advice also have to bear responsibility. Those who gave advice and those who received the advice as also those who feel they can give better advice — all have to bear responsibility.”

The stress on those who “received the advice” was a clear allusion to Rahul. Deora justified his argument in two tweets today.

One said: “Field party work & electoral battles are key to comprehend ground realities. This should form the basis for leadership posts in Congress.”

The other said: “My comments are out of emotions of deep loyalty to the party, pain of our performance & a sincere desire to see us bounce back. Nothing more.”

Deora’s comments have triggered a churning in the party. While many of the younger leaders reacted angrily, asking how a member of Rahul’s inner circle could make these comments, older leaders wondered if Deora’s remarks indicated a lack of commitment to the party and a lack of faith in its leadership.

Deora, whose father was a cabinet minister and was recently given a Rajya Sabha term, is a member of the young brigade that Rahul wants to empower.

Ironically, none of the younger leaders considered close to Rahul sought to confront Deora’s charge although veterans like Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Vilas Muttemwar and Anil Shastri came to the party vice-president’s defence, arguing defeats cannot be blamed solely on the leader.

Those who never miss an opportunity to advocate retirement for people above 60 were silent. Nor did party spokespersons rebut Deora’s comments.

Chaturvedi, former general secretary and Rajya Sabha member, told The Telegraph: “We lost under Indira and regained power under her. In 1999, we lost under Sonia but she showed remarkable leadership to revive the Congress and dislodge the Vajpayee government in 2004.”

He added: “Rahul is a capable leader. One defeat does not disqualify (him as) a leader. There is a need for honest introspection and strong measures for a course correction but there is no need to get disheartened.”

Asked about Deora’s comments, he said: “The crux of his statement is that there was a communication gap and that apolitical people with no experience and maturity became Rahul’s advisers. It is the prerogative of the leader to choose his advisers. Apolitical people with technical and academic background do give advice to leaders on specific subjects.”

He added: “To blame Rahul for choosing those people is exaggerated. Every Congress member will now have some feedback to give to the leadership, which will help analyse the mistakes. Steps will be taken to bring about changes in the system.”

Seven-term MP Muttemwar, who lost from Nagpur to Nitin Gadkari, said: “It is wrong to blame Rahul. Was Rahul fighting alone for this 128-year-old-party? Wasn’t this a collective failure?”

He went on: “This is the time to give confidence to the leader. What is left in the Congress today without Sonia and Rahul? Who else if not Rahul? Everybody should assess his or her responsibility and accept their own failure. Accountability should be fixed at every level.”

Asked about Deora’s comment on the advisers, he said: “You know that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. General secretaries should start looking at their own roles. If some people have lost the faith of party workers and have failed constantly, they should move away on their own.”

He also argued that Rahul should have been made the Prime Minister before the election to lend credibility and strength to the government.

Shastri, a special invitee to the working committee, said: “The process involves leaders from the block level to the top. One can’t blame the leader alone. The advisers too can’t be blamed without a thorough analysis.”

He cited lapses such as “wrong candidate selection” and “complacent” ministers. “Most of them (the ministers) reflected a couldn’t-care-less attitude. You can’t win an election after that,” Shastri said.

“The IUML (Muslim League) is saying Rahul couldn’t touch the soul of India; Praful Patel talks of a weak PM. Why didn’t they say these things before the election? What was Patel doing as a minister under the weak PM?”