New Delhi: The Congress party has been trying to reach out to its young leaders in a bid to pre-empt any other potential rumblings of revolt, in view of the shocking exit of Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev last month, ThePrint has learnt.
The party leadership has been in talks with Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Milind Deora in Maharashtra, and is mulling over accommodating the two leaders in a more central role, sources said.
On 16 August, Dev publicly announced her departure from the Congress. Hours later, she joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Her exit came as a surprise to many given that she had always been seen as a Rahul Gandhi loyalist, had served as an MP from Silchar, and was the president of the All India Mahila Congress.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala reacted to the news of her quitting by calling her “versatile”, “talented” and a “dear friend” who had a “generational relationship with Congress ideology”. Dev is the daughter of senior Assam Congress leader, late Santosh Mohan Dev.
Sushmita was the latest prominent young face to quit the party, after Jyotiraditya Scindia left in March 2020, and Jitin Prasada in June this year. Both Scindia and Prasada went to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the former now serving as a Union minister.
Despite generational ties with the Congress, all three leaders joined rival parties, triggering anxiety in the party top brass over the possibility of other leaders following suit.
Importance of Milind Deora
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi met with Milind Deora recently where the latter assured him that he would remain a loyal soldier of the party, ThePrint has learnt.
“He assured the leadership that he is a Congress loyalist and won’t be exiting the party,” a Congress source said.
The party high command is now considering giving Deora a spot in the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body in the party.
There are four empty spots in the CWC after Scindia, Prasada and Dev quit the party, and Rajeev Satav died of coronavirus in May.
If Deora is given a post in the CWC, it will be a prestigious appointment for the leader who has lately been sidelined in Maharashtra Congress.
Deora was a two-time MP between 2004 and 2014, and the MoS for Communications and Information Technology and Shipping in the second term of the Manmohan Singh government. He was then made the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee president ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but eventually quit the post after Congress’ drubbing in the polls.
Deora had contested against Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant in the general elections from Mumbai South, and fielded 3.21 lakh votes, about 75,000 votes more than what he had got in 2014. Although Deora lost the last two polls, his performance was credible, given the absence of Congress’ organisation on the ground and Modi wave in both elections.
Deora has been vocal on many issues, often speaking his mind that ran contrary to the party line — most notably supporting Article 370’s abrogation in August 2019.
He was among the 23 party leaders who wrote to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi demanding a “full time and effective leadership” in August 2020.
Since then, there have repeatedly been murmurs of Deora’s possible exit from the Congress, despite which he has so far stayed loyal to the party. So his induction into the CWC will be a pre-emptive effort to squash any such possibility.
AICC role for Pilot
The Congress is also concerned about former Rajasthan deputy CM Sachin Pilot’s role in the party, given the long drawn turmoil in the state unit over the continued conflict between him and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
As ThePrint earlier reported, a cabinet reshuffle in the Rajasthan government is on the cards where four of Pilot’s loyalists are likely to be accommodated in the cabinet. Moreover as a “temporary solution”, the Congress leadership might give Pilot a central role in the All India Congress Committee, the central decision-making assembly of the party.
However, Pilot is yet to make up his mind as the leader has built his base in Rajasthan over the last seven years, when he was made the Rajasthan PCC chief in 2014.
“This is like his own fortress he has built here, which he wouldn’t give up so easily,” a senior Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
The Rajasthan assembly session is slated to begin on 9 September, and if the party does decide to have a cabinet reshuffle and offer Pilot a role in the AICC, it will either take place before or after the assembly session.