Rajiv shadow in Rahul snub

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Delhi
  • Published 29.03.08
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New Delhi, March 29: A shouted insult from Rajiv Gandhi to a chief minister had cost the Congress the state of Andhra Pradesh. Twenty-six years later, the party is jittery after Rahul Gandhi’s public snub to Karnataka Congress chief M. Mallikarjun Kharge.

As Rahul interacted with technology students in Dharwad during his Karnataka road show this week, his security ordered Kharge to stay off.

With Karnataka about to go to the polls, Congress sources were worried how to explain the humiliation to voters.

In 1982, Rajiv had screamed at Tantuguri Anjaiah, the Congress chief minister of Andhra, before a crowd of party workers at Hyderabad’s Begumpet airport.

Rajiv was a Congress general secretary but had arrived on a private visit and wondered why the mobs had been rustled up. The chief minister didn’t get the message and kept fawning on him till Rajiv called him a “buffoon”.

Indira Gandhi soon sacked Anjaiah. As he left, he said: “I came by the grace of Madam, I am going under her orders. I don’t know why I came and why I am going.”

The “insult” turned into ammunition in N.T. Rama Rao’s hands. The Telugu Desam Party stormed to power on the “atmagauravam” (self-respect) plank.

Neither the BJP nor the Janata Dal (Secular) is likely to play on the “self-respect” sentiment in Karnataka, but the Congress is concerned about its Dalit votes.

Like Anjaiah, Kharge is a Dalit. But 26 years ago, there was no Mayavati or Ram Vilas Paswan to cry “anti-Dalit” when Anjaiah lost his job. “This time, things are different,” a state Congress official said.

The party’s main worry is the Bahujan Samaj Party, which is expected to contest all the Assembly seats and has poached quite a few of the Congress’s local Dalit leaders.

A central leader denied that Rahul had meant to humiliate Kharge. “Wherever he went, the gatherings were so large that there wasn’t enough space for all,” he said.

Kharge was a major reason why the state unit had resisted former chief minister S.M. Krishna’s return till the last. The low-key and “inarticulate” Kharge “had never been allowed to grow” as long as Krishna was around, sources said.

When Krishna was asked to head the election coordination committee, it looked like Kharge’s role would become secondary. “Perhaps Rahul was just reinforcing the message,” a source said.