Since taking over last year, Rahul has inducted Left activists into his core group, and into the party.
New Delhi: Much like his mother Sonia Gandhi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is increasingly surrounding himself with activists and intellectuals with an affinity for Left-wing political ideology.
During the UPA years, Sonia Gandhi headed the National Advisory Council (NAC), derided by critics as a Left-leaning disruptive de facto power centre.
Since taking over as party president in December, Rahul has not only inducted such activists into his core group, he also seeks the advice of Left-leaning intellectuals. In the recent past, a number of such activists have also joined the lower rungs of the party, including some who were once bitter critics of Congress policies.
Take the case of Sandeep Singh, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi who now helps the Congress president with his speeches. Singh was once associated with the All India Student Association (AISA), the student wing of CPI(ML).
In November 2005, when then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh visited Jawaharlal Nehru University, Singh, who was a student at the time, led a group of students who waved black flags at the prime minister.
Singh later apologised and left AISA. His rise as a close team member of Rahul Gandhi has surprised many in the Congress.
The Congress president also regularly meets and seeks the advice of Apoorvanand, a professor in Delhi University and a Left-leaning intellectual. In his column recently, Apoorvanand criticised Sonia Gandhi for failing to meet Zakia Jafri, the widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Inductions into the party
Apart from the advisory level, the Left is gradually entering the Congress itself.
On 2 September, close to 100 Left-leaning activists, student leaders and theatre personalities joined the Congress, in the presence of UP Congress president Raj Babbar, in Lucknow.
Most of them have been associated with organisations such as AISA or CPI(ML) or bodies fighting for the rights of different communities.
Among those who joined the party that day was Sadaf Zafar, a noted theatre personality in Lucknow who has also acted in the Farhan Akhtar movie, Lucknow Central. She was a teacher in a reputed school before turning into a full-time women and child rights activists 10 years ago.
Others include Sudhanshu Bajpayee, a former AISA state president; Raghunandan Yadav, a former national executive member of AISA who had contested student elections in Allahabad University; Sarita Patel, who had been a member of CPI(ML)’s state executive and Anil Yadav, a student leader who was later associated with Rihai Manch.
Rihai Manch is an organisation that was formed after a number of terror suspects were arrested from Azamgarh and other parts of Uttar Pradesh during UPA-1. The Manch was formed to assist these accused in their legal battles.
At the chief’s bidding
The induction of these activists into the Congress on 2 September was directly facilitated by Rahul Gandhi himself. Just a month before that, on 9 August, he had met them at his 12 Tughlak Lane residence in New Delhi.
The Congress president met the activists, whom he had specially invited, in two different sessions on the day. In the morning, he spent an hour explaining to those present, the working of RSS as compared to the Congress. He also explained the changes that he wanted to bring to the Congress.
“He was like a professor who decoded the ideology of Congress before us,” says Shahnawaz Alam, an activist from Ballia, UP, who was once an AISA member in Allahabad University and was later associated with Rihai Manch.
The evening meeting lasted for three hours, where those present say Rahul patiently heard the opinions and issues raised by the activists. In the end, came the offer to join the Congress.
“If you want to speak against the Congress, join the party and raise the issues within the party. I promise to hear out everyone as we need such bright minds to take our party forward,” Rahul is said to have told the gathering.
The 2 September event in Lucknow was the result of the meeting.
Those who have joined the party say the new Congress under Rahul offers a lot more promise.
“It is not the Congress of the past. For the first time you are witnessing the party president openly naming an industrialist in a scam and speaking against a handful of industrialists,” says Alam.
“It was the Left that used to do this. The word crony capitalism, often used by Congress today, was actually used earlier in meetings and protests by Left parties.”
JNU student’s union president Mohit Pandey says the current political situation demands that all parties, be it regional ones, the Left or the Congress, come together. “I am not joining Congress but there is talk of a joint opposition fight against the BJP. On that ground, we extend support,” says Pandey.
Pandey and another JNU student’s union leader, Shehla Rashid, were invited to the Iftar party organised by Congress in June this year. “We went there as youth leaders and not as representatives of any party,” he says.
‘Churn in the Congress’
This lean towards the Left is not new for the Congress. In fact, during the previous UPA government, the NAC, headed by Sonia Gandhi, was filled with activists who had questioned the Congress’ policies in the past.
In the past too, Congress and Left have flirted with each other. The UPA-1 government was even formed with support from the Left parties.
“During the ‘70s, communist parties were close to the Congress as Indira Gandhi was working on agriculture and slogans like ‘Garibi Hatao’ were popular,” says Zoya Hasan, a noted Congress historian.
Not everyone in the Congress, however, is happy with the turn of events. There are senior leaders who are unhappy with the entry of such Left-leaning members but do not speak up.
“If so many of them join the party like this, what message does it send to the worker who has been there for years and is being ignored,” says an UP-based Congress leader. “What value do they bring apart from their activism? Can they secure votes to the party?”
Sources tell ThePrint that some senior leaders were also wary of Rahul Gandhi openly supporting the activists arrested by the government for suspected Maoist links last month.
Some of those named, the leaders say, were deemed as suspicious by the UPA government.
The unhappiness also comes with confusion about the policies of the party under Rahul Gandhi as he is seen to be pursuing soft Hindutva to counter the BJP and the RSS on one hand and appealing to the Left on the other.