Differences between Congress young guns, UPA-era ministers widen

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 01, 2020 01:52 AM IST

The “young versus old” debate that has blighted the Congress for long has now acquired larger proportions. The issue erupted at Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s marathon virtual meeting with the party’s Rajya Sabha MPs on Thursday.

The rift between young Congress leaders and UPA-era ministers intensified a day after the former urged the latter to introspect and claimed at a virtual meeting that the UPA government ruined the grand old party’s fortunes, with former minister Manish Tewari alleging sabotage from within and demanding an analysis of the 2019 election, by which time the party had been out of power for five years, but did as badly as it had done in 2014.

Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Manish Tewari.(HT Photo)
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Manish Tewari.(HT Photo)

Tewari, Union information and broadcasting minister in the last two years of the UPA government, said on Twitter: “Was UPA responsible for decline in Fortunes of the Congress in 2014” is a valid question and must be gone into.”

Also read: Rajasthan HC sends notices to Speaker, 6 BSP MLAs who joined Congress

“Equally valid is was UPA sabotaged from within?” he asked and demanded that “2019 defeat must also be analysed”. The former minister pointed out, that “no charge against the UPA has stood the test of law—6 years on,” referring to the closure and acquittal of all accused in the 2G spectrum allocation case.

In another tweet, he emphasised that sabotage started with the CAG’s “fraudulent” report on the so-called 2G scam which pegged a notional loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore and said, “What would be interesting to find out someday is not that the report was fake but who set him (then CAG Vinod Rai) to it?”

When contacted, Tewari told HT, “There should be a frank assessment of the UPA years but was finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman lying when she said during her last budget speech that 271 million people had been lifted out of poverty between 2006 and 2016 – eight of which were UPA years?.”

Underlining UPA-era schemes such as the RTI, MGNREGA , Right To Education, the Food Security Act and other social security programmes, Tewari said the schemes are used in the present day and are providing food support to 800 million people.

“If the young MP doesn’t know all this, then he needs a primer. There is now empirical if not unimpeachable evidence that the UPA was sabotaged from within -- the Vinod Rai 2G report being a classical example,” Tewari added.

The “young versus old” debate that has blighted the Congress for long has now acquired larger proportions. A year after the Congress’s second Lok Sabha defeat in a row and marginalisation of two prominent young leaders — Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot — the issue erupted at Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s marathon virtual meeting with the party’s Rajya Sabha MPs on Thursday.

Rajiv Satav, a former youth Congress chief, led the charge against the senior leaders such as Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram after they spoke about the need for introspection.

According to two leaders present in the meeting, Sibal called for introspection on “why we are not succeeding to send our message” across to the people. Sibal also counted the reasons: inadequate articulation, everybody is on their own, lack of team work, no concentration on particular issues, no ideological depth,and organizational mismatch. He concluded saying, “We are not doing right things.”

Satav, next to speak, lashed out at Sibal. “People who are asking for introspect should have introspected much earlier. UPA 2 brought Congress down to 44 MPs,” he said, referring to the party’s tally in the 2014 election.

The next attack was launched by the party’s general secretary KC Venugopal, who took on both Sibal and Chidambaram. According to leaders present in the meeting, Venugopal said when Rahul Gandhi says something, some senior leaders dilute it. “If Rahul Gandhi is not the leader, who else is the leader?” he asked, arguing that Rahul always stood up against Narendra Modi on all issues. “But when Rahul Gandhi faces attack, no one backs him.”

Chidambaram was the fourth speaker after Sonia Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh and AK Antony. While he criticised the government on all three key issues — Covid management, economic distress and the India-China border standoff — he added that despite the Modi government’s failures, public mood was not turning against it

Chidambaram also drew a north versus south India divide and said in southern states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, people understood and opposed Modi but “our political messaging is not right in the north”.

A senior leader claimed that both Sibal and Chidambaram’s intent was not to attack the young leaders but demand more space in the party’s decision-making process. This was reflected in Ahmed Patel’s remarks, when he spoke about giving more chances to leaders who are not members of the Congress Working Committee, to speak on party affairs and national issues. Neither leader is a member of CWC although Chidambaram is a permanent invitee.

Sonia started the meeting with a brief reference to Covid, India-China clashes and the economic situation. Manmohan and Antony, too, spoke briefly on general issues before other MPs were asked to speak.

Shaktisinh Gohil started the clamour to bring back Rahul Gandhi as the party chief, a sentiment echoed by others. Digvijaya Singh said, “The entire country wants Rahul Gandhi as Congress president.”

Abhishek Manu Singhvi endorsed Gohil’s demand and spoke about how the BJP murdered democratic institutions and suggested that pro-Modi media be “named and shamed”.

While Sibal, Chidambaram and Satav refused to comment, a senior party leader who heard them at the meeting said the resentment was a reflection of UPA-era ministers feeling left out of decision-making. “They want to be involved and Mrs Gandhi acknowledged that.”

However, another MP felt that the rift between the two factions was now too wide to bridge.

Chidambaram insisted that due to weaknesses in the organisational structure, the party was unable to highlight the failures of the Modi government in handling the pandemic, economy and China.

On the record, the Congress accused the BJP of “unleashing propaganda” to divert attention from its alleged failures in tackling Covid-19 and China.

“We only reply to facts and not fiction. The stories about internal rumblings in the Congress and of a fight between old and new guard are a figment of imagination, fiction and a product of BJP’s propaganda factory, merely unleashed in the market to cover their failures in health infrastructure and national security,” party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill told a virtual news conference.

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