New Delhi: Up until last month, Congress’s Archana Gautam had been making headlines as a contestant on the reality TV show Bigg Boss 16. On Sunday, however, she made news for a very different reason. In a video posted on Facebook, she claimed that Sandeep Singh, personal secretary of All India Congress Committee general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, had threatened to “throw her in lock-up” if she insisted on meeting the leader.
In the video, she accused Singh of blocking people’s access to Priyanka Gandhi and narrated an incident that had allegedly occurred over the weekend at the Congress party’s plenary session in Chhattisgarh.
Gautam — who claims to be ‘inspired’ by Priyanka Gandhi, often referring to her as Didi — said in the video that Singh not only brushed her off but threatened her publicly saying, “Zyada bolegi naa toh thane mein dalwa doonga (if you continue to insist, I’ll get you thrown in jail)”.
“During the adhiveshan (plenary), I had taken an appointment with Didi a long time ago. I was told I’ll get to meet her but at the last moment they said no. Somehow, I reached Didi and told her that I have been seeking your time for a year but I am not allowed to meet you. There, they (Singh) were trying to shut me down by glaring at me,” said Gautam in the video. Gautam was Congress’s Dalit candidate from Hastinapur, a reserved seat, in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election.
ThePrint reached Singh via phone calls and text, but did not receive a response at the time of publishing this report. The story will be updated when a response is received.
ThePrint also reached Gautam for a comment, but could only speak to her father. “Sandeep didn’t pick up my calls, otherwise I would have shown him,” said Gautam’s father, who wished to not give his name, saying he would be happy to be referred to simply as “Archana’s father”.
“He (Sandeep Singh) knows me well. I had pushed him hard (before my daughter joined Congress) at Lucknow Congress party headquarters in 2021 when I had gone to meet Priyanka Gandhi. He was trying to tell me ‘hato, hato (move, move)’,” he added.
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‘Sandeep Singh killing Congress’
In the video, Gautam claimed Singh frequently prevented “senior leaders who want to join the Congress” from meeting the Gandhis — in particular, Priyanka.
“Sandeep Singh doesn’t know how to talk to women or the elderly. I don’t understand why they are keeping people who are killing the party,” Gautam said in her video. “Our messages don’t reach them (Gandhis) because Sandeep Singh has positioned his own people everywhere. They have grabbed control over Congress in a way that no one can meet (Priyanka) didi.”
“These people don’t let people from the SC/ST/OBC community come forward. They are scared that we will go above them in ranks.”
Gautam also accused Singh of “destroying” the party.
“Rahul Gandhiji, it’s Sandeep Singh who is destroying the party. This person doesn’t let anyone meet. Many senior leaders who want to join the party, he doesn’t let them meet. This person doesn’t want the party to be strengthened. He needs to be thrown out. There is only one person pulling the party down, that is Sandeep Singh. He only fills his bank account and his bag with money. That’s it,” she said in the video.
A day later, Gautam also posted photos of her meeting with Priyanka in Raipur on Instagram. In the caption accompanying the photos, she wrote, “Meri Di meri prerna. Jab tak zindagi hai, yeh Archana aapki hai” (My sister, my inspiration. Until there’s breath in my body, I’m yours).
Gautam’s admiration of Priyanka isn’t simply restricted to social media. Last November, she was thrown out of Big Boss 16 after she came to blows with fellow contestant Shiv Thakare. The fight began after the latter allegedly mockingly used the word ‘didi’ — Gautam’s term of endearment for Priyanka Gandhi.
She eventually returned to the show and was the third runner-up that season.
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Controversy over Archana Gautam’s candidature
The popular Bigg Boss contestant is no stranger to controversy. A former beauty pageant winner, Gautam was made a Congress candidate under the party’s ‘Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon‘ campaign under which the party gave 40 per cent of its tickets to women.
Soon after Gautam’s candidature was announced, opposition parties and local media pulled out old photos of her participating in Miss Bikini Universe India 2018, with Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi even accusing the party of fielding her for “cheap publicity”.
The trolling led to Priyanka defending Gautam publicly. “Our candidate from Hastinapur has reached this stage after a period of struggle. The fact that she is a known face today reflects that struggle,” Priyanka had said in her statement. “The campaign against her and especially the questions like when did you last wear a bikini or what if someone wants to marry you and so on are unwarranted. Why doesn’t the media ask Narendra Modi, who he is going to marry?”
Despite the brouhaha, however, Gautam’s, and Congress’s, run was unsuccessful — while she secured a paltry 1,519 votes or 0.66 per cent vote share and came in at a distant fifth, Congress lost its deposit in 97 per cent of the seats.
From Left leader to trusted lieutenant — who is Sandeep Singh
On the other hand, Priyanka’s personal secretary Sandeep Singh first gained prominence during the 2019 general election, when Rahul Gandhi handpicked him to be part of Priyanka’s team.
Considered close to both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, Singh, a former Jawaharlal Nehru University student, is from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh. Although it’s unknown how he came to be close to the Gandhis, sources had told ThePrint in 2019 that he was suddenly spotted moving around Rahul Gandhi in 2017.
From there, he eventually grew to be the then Congress president’s speechwriter and trusted lieutenant, and was even known to have the leader’s attention when it came to political alliances.
However, Singh wasn’t always part of the Congress and, in fact, began his political career as a student activist of the All India Students Association (AISA), the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
In 2005, he led a group of students who waved a black flag at then-PM Manmohan Singh who was visiting the campus. After he left JNU, he joined the 2011 anti-corruption movement against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
This isn’t the first time Singh has been accused of blocking Congress leaders’ access to the party’s high command. After the Congress’s drubbing in the 2022 assembly elections, Konark Dixit, who was expelled from the party in 2020, blamed Singh for the party’s poor performance.
“Most people in the Congress are silent against Sandeep Singh and they will not say much before the review committee till Priyanka is in-charge. They know that Priyanka Gandhi blindly acted on the advice of her secretary and whosoever opens his/her mouth against him would be expelled,” Dixit had said.
Zeeshan Haider, another expelled leader of the party, has made similar allegations. Asking for Priyanka’s ouster as the person in-charge of the Congress’s affairs in Uttar Pradesh, Haider blamed a handful of people having roots in JNU for “misleading her and selling tickets”.
“These people have not done anything on the ground and all the leaders who have left the party in the recent past had done so because of the personal assistant of Priyankaji and his cronies,” he said. “In the recent past, 30 former MPs, legislators, and leaders have left the party and every one of them will tell how they left the party because of the same people. Priyankaji should also know that it is because of these people that the party is in such bad shape today.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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