THE FIERCE infighting in the Congress party’s Mumbai unit came out in the open today in an embarrassing fashion — on the party’s 131st foundation day — after its mouthpiece carried articles questioning Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy on Kashmir and claiming that Sonia Gandhi’s father was a “fascist soldier”.
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam, who is also the editor of Congress Darshan, apologised for what he described as an “irreparable mistake”. But he also accused his rivals of having “leaked” the contents of the in-house magazine to the media to target him.
By evening, Nirupam had sacked the publication’s content editor Sudhir Joshi, a freelance journalist. Joshi was not available for comment.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Nirupam said: “I take complete responsibility… I admit the contents were unacceptable. We should have been careful. But if anybody had a problem and wanted to rectify the errors, they should have brought it to my notice. Or they should have sent it to the high command.”
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Nirupam accused his “rivals” of deliberately keeping silent about the articles. “They leaked it to the media on a day that is most auspicious for Congressmen. This is an anti-party activity. They wanted to target me and embarrassed the party. There should be an inquiry into who was behind this,” he said.
In Delhi, Congress leader Salman Khurshid said the issue should be “seriously looked into” while spokesperson Tom Vadakkan sought to distance the party from the publication.
Reacting to the articles, BJP Union Minister Jitender Singh said such remarks about Nehru’s policy have been made earlier, too. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar even congratulated Nirupam for “bearing out the truth in the mouthpiece”.
Discord and factionalism has dogged the Mumbai Congress, foiling its consolidation plans in the past few years. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party was wiped out in Mumbai. It had also fared miserably in the assembly elections in the city the same year.
The controversial articles appeared in the Hindi edition of Congress Darshan, which has a Marathi edition, too. Both the editions were brought out on December 8 to coincide with Sonia Gandhi’s birthday, with 200 copies of each printed for “internal circulation”.
An unsigned write-up in the Hindi edition blames Nehru for “the state of affairs in Kashmir, China and Tibet”.
“Despite Patel getting the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, the relations between the two leaders remained strained, and both had threatened to resign time and again,” the article says.
The article cites a letter that Patel purportedly wrote in 1950 to caution Nehru against China’s policy towards Tibet and in which “Patel described China as unfaithful, and a future enemy of India”. “Had Patel been heard (by Nehru) then, the problems of Kashmir, China, Tibet and Nepal wouldn’t have existed now. Patel opposed Nehru’s move of taking the Kashmir issue to the UN,” stated the article, adding, “Nehru did not agree with Patel’s views on Nepal.”
Another article describes Sonia Gandhi’s early life in detail, including her “ambition to become an air hostess” as well as the allegation that her father was a member of the Italian forces that lost to the Russians in the World War. “Sonia Gandhi’s father Stephano Maino was a former fascist soldier,” it says.
The write-up also describes how Sonia rose to the position of party president. “Sonia Gandhi registered as a primary member of the Congress in 1997 and became the party’s president in 62 days. She also made an unsuccessful attempt to form a government,” the article says.
When contacted, former UPA minister Salman Khurshid said, “If something like this has come out in a Congress magazine, then AICC will take it up.”
Spokesperson Vadakkan said, “It was a defunct magazine and there were attempts to revive it. This magazine has not been associated with Congress.”
‘Congress Darshan’ was launched during the tenure of Kripashankar Singh as Mumbai chief between 2007-2011 to “sensitise partymen on policies and the legacy of the Congress”.
The journal was discontinued four years ago before being revived by Nirupam, a former journalist himself, this year. “I decided to revive the Hindi edition two months ago. The first issue was brought out in November,” said Nirupam.
“The initial plan was to just translate the content published in the Marathi edition. But Joshi expressed an interest in contributing independent articles, which we approved,” he said.
Nirupam said he would now revamp the editorial board and personally monitor content.
Bhushan Patil, an editorial board member, said Joshi published the content without approval. “It was decided to prepone the December edition to mark Soniaji’s birthday. The decision was taken on December 4. The content writer (Joshi) said that he was pressed for time and did not wait for approval of board members. The Marathi edition was screened,” he said.
But while nowhere in the publication is Joshi credited for sourcing content, sources said board members and local leaders, Nizamuddin Rayeen and Chitrasen Singh, had been assigned the responsibility for the Hindi edition.
Former union minister Gurudas Kamat said, “I’m shocked… The credentials of the content writer ought to have been checked before he was appointed for the job.”
Former party MP Milind Deora tweeted: “Glad action has been taken against writer of unsound piece. Leaders must show caution, avoid such mistakes in future.”