Despite a somewhat smooth working relationship, Rahul’s official Twitter handle remained silent, with no customary congratulatory message for Patel after he scraped through.
Ahmed Patel’s victory in the Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat, albeit by a mere whisker, has not only allowed him to retain his seat, but has also strengthened his position in the Congress.
While he continues to enjoy the unflinching support and confidence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Patel and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi haven’t been able to see eye to eye.
After Patel’s nail-biting win just after midnight on Tuesday, Rahul’s official Twitter handle was conspicuously silent. Even the customary felicitation wasn’t tweeted.
But Patel acknowledged on his Twitter handle that Rahul called him.
“Thank you @OfficeOfRG for your wishes this morning to the people of Gujarat, GPCC and myself,” the tweet read.
“I have assured Rahul ji that we shall continue this fight with the same zest till the Assembly elections,” he tweeted.
So what is the equation between Patel, who represents the “old guard”, and Rahul, who is the face of the “new, young” guard?
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Rahul and Patel shared a rocky relationship. Highly placed sources in the party told ThePrint, on condition of anonymity, that matters had almost reached a breaking point with Patel threatening to distance himself from the party.
Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had to intervene and pacify Patel to ensure that the party stayed together. Priyanka had, in fact, become the bridge between Rahul’s team and the old guard, particularly Patel.
However, after the 2014 debacle, discontent led to rifts. Rahul’s aides, in private, would criticise Patel for his handling of party affairs. A key strategist in Rahul’s team, who was instrumental in drafting the party’s roadmap before the 2014 election and has since receded into the background, would blame Patel for giving the party and the UPA government a “negative image”. However, the strategist absolved Rahul of any blame for the party’s disastrous electoral outing.
The cracks kept widening between Rahul’s team and Patel. In 2015, after Rahul returned from a two-month-long vacation from February to April the situation began to change. On his return, Rahul made a “very conscious effort” to reach out to Patel and iron out their differences. An senior party leader said Rahul relied on trusted confidante Kanishka Singh to forge a working relationship between both offices. The Congress Vice President ensured regular contact and coordination on almost a daily basis.
This entire effort took place due to Sonia Gandhi, said a highly placed party functionary.
The party and its various cells are under strict instructions from Rahul to remain in touch with Patel for important decisions, and to seek his opinion. The party’s communication department head, Randeep Surjewala, also speaks with Patel to discuss the party’s outreach strategy.
On Tuesday, the day of the Gujarat Rajya Sabha poll, Rahul Gandhi showed complete solidarity with Patel.
“Would P. Chidambaram, Randeep Surjewala and Anand Sharma really reach the Election Commission thrice for Ahmed Patel without Rahul Gandhi’s go ahead? The party vice-president had clearly instructed everyone to put up a united front and back Patel,” a highly placed source in the party said on condition of anonymity.
Despite the distinct improvement in the relationship, direct interactions between Rahul and Patel remain rare. Rahul often limits his regular interaction to just his core team and Patel, despite his clout and seniority in the party, is no different. Party functionaries point out that while Rahul understands why it’s imperative to maintain a functional relationship with Patel and not allow cracks to show, he also keeps his distance, giving credence to the view that the relationship is not without its share of creases.