New Delhi: Guess who is Rahul Gandhi’s political adviser nowadays? It’s a young, former comrade from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) who had once shown black flags to then prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2005.
Sandeep Singh has not been designated the Congress president’s political adviser yet. But he is the one writing his speeches, and is known to have Gandhi’s ears on the issue of alliances too.
So, when he wanted to guide his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi picked Singh again. Singh has been travelling with Priyanka in the state ever since, and is said to run the show.
No one knows how and when the Congress president developed so much liking for Singh, but Congress sources say he was suddenly spotted moving around Gandhi some time in 2017.
Singh, who hails from a middle-class family in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, joined JNU after graduating from Allahabad University, where he got acquainted with the All India Students Association (AISA), the student wing of the far-Left Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
Initially a student at JNU’s Hindi department, he soon got himself enrolled in philosophy.
In November 2005, when then prime minister Manmohan Singh visited JNU, Singh led a group of students to wave black flags at him for his government’s “anti-people policies”.
Remembered fondly by his friends for his rustic style and admired for his oratory skills, Singh was elected the president of the JNU Students Union in 2007.
“After leaving JNU, Singh distanced himself from Left politics and became active in the Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal-led movement for Lokpal,” a close aide of Singh told ThePrint.
“But he soon got disillusioned, and this led him towards the Congress,” the aide said. “He became part of the Congress as a speech writer for the party president but learnt the tricks of the trade pretty quickly to become a party strategist,” the aide added.
As he joined the party, Singh apologised for the ‘black flags’ demonstration. However, he has reportedly fallen foul of the Congress’ student wing National Students Union of India (NSUI) for allegedly continuing to promote AISA.
In 2018, the NSUI general secretary in-charge of JNU wrote to the All India Congress Committee (AICC), claiming that Singh was undermining the party’s strength on the campus.
“Sandeep Singh former JNUSU President and AISA activist who is now a member of Rahul Gandhi’s team visits JNU campus and tells them that if they want to join the Congress then don’t be part of NSUI rather join the Left and raise yourself to the higher post in Congress Party [sic],” the general secretary wrote. “This demotivates our party members and activists and weakens our team in JNU.”
Singh’s rising star in the Congress has coincided with an evident shift under party president Gandhi — as reported by ThePrint in September last year, the Gandhi scion seems to be increasingly turning to Left-leaning intellectuals for advice while packing his core group with activists who identify with the ideology.
In the recent past, a number of such activists have also joined the lower rungs of the party — for example, on 2 September last year, close to 100 Left-leaning activists, student leaders and theatre personalities joined the Congress in Lucknow.
Congress insiders claim Singh is the brain behind the anti-corporate, pro-poor tilt in Rahul and Priyanka’s speeches and social media posts.
Case in point: During a recent address at the Sindhora Ghat in Varanasi, Priyanka said, “After the Congress government came to power in Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, farm loans were waived. But under this government, industrialists and businessman are the only ones who are happy.”
गरीबी पर सबसे बड़ा वार होने जा रहा हैं। कांग्रेस पार्टी न्यूनतम आय योजना- न्याय- लेकर आई है।
देश के सबसे गरीब 20% परिवारों को गरीबी से बाहर निकालने के लिए हम हर साल 72,000 रुपए देने जा रहे हैं।
सबको न्याय सबको सम्मान।#NyayForIndia
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) March 25, 2019
कांग्रेस की नयी पहल
बेहतर भारत! बेहतर कल!
न्यूनतम आय योजना (न्याय) देगी देश के 5 करोड़ सब से गरीब परिवारों को सालाना 72,000 रुपए।
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 25, 2019
उत्तर प्रदेश के शिक्षामित्रों की मेहनत का रोज़ अपमान होता है, सैकड़ों पीड़ितों नें आत्महत्या कर डाली। जो सड़कों पर उतरे सरकार ने उनपर लाठियाँ चलाई, रासुका दर्ज किया। भाजपा के नेता टीशर्टों की मार्केट्टिंग में व्यस्त हैं, काश वे अपना ध्यान दर्दमंदों की ओर भी डालते। #Sanchibaat pic.twitter.com/eBeyNSt3va
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) March 25, 2019
The presence of Savitri Bai Phule, a Dalit former MP who has shifted from the BJP to the Congress, by Priyanka’s side during the Ganga Yatra was Singh’s brainchild too, said a party insider, as was the Congress leader’s visit to Dalit rights activist and Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad.
“Sandeep is the speech writer for the Congress president and works as a key strategist too,” said a person familiar with the party’s inner workings.
“Priyanka’s team is still being set up and Sandeep has been asked to help out with the outreach programme and speeches,” the source added. “Sandeep brings with him his oratorical skills and deep knowledge of language and Indian society,” said the aide.
“As a leader of AISA, he was a disciple of ‘Tapas da‘, the mysterious in-charge of the organisation’s JNU unit. He learnt the Marxist lexicon from him and blended it with the grassroots politics of the Hindi heartland,” the insider added.
“He got acquainted with the craft of demagogy and sloganeering in JNU and with AISA. He might be using those skills while writing speeches for Rahul Gandhi and now Priyanka,” he said.
The Congress historically had a Left-of-Centre position, which was most pronounced during the early years of Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership. It was in keeping with this that the Congress nationalised banks and coal mines, “Garibi Hatao” became the Congress’ clarion call.
But the 1990s saw the Congress lean towards the economic Right by setting India on the path to liberalisation. Whether the Congress brass’ recent rhetoric marks the party’s return to its roots, or is just a depiction of Singh’s influence, remains to be seen.
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