On a day which saw the sudden resignation of Navjot Singh Sidhu as its Punjab unit chief, the Congress saw an infusion of new blood on Tuesday as former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar joined the party while Independent Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani said he extended “full support” and would contest the 2022 state elections on the Congress symbol.
While Mevani had announced on Saturday that he would join the Congress, he said today that it could result in his disqualification as MLA. “I cannot join the party formally, because I am an Independent MLA. It is important that I am with this (Congress) ideology. The formality can happen in the future as well,” he said.
Welcoming the duo, AlCC general secretary K C Venugopal said Kumar symbolised the “fight for freedom of expression in this country”. “The way he fought against fundamentalism… (this) will enthuse the Congress cadre across the country,” he said.
Venugopal said Mevani was “fighting for the same cause” as the Congress. “Through his activities, interventions, (he has) already proved that he also believes in the Congress ideology,” he said.
He said the Congress would work with Kumar, Mevani and others “to defeat the fundamentalist, fascist forces which are ruling” the country.
However, the lateral induction is bound to raise concern among the Congress’s youth cadre. Perhaps hinting at these apprehensions, Manish Tewari – who was Youth Congress president earlier and was among the 23 senior Congress leaders (G-23) who wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi a year ago seeking an overhaul – tweeted about Communist leaders joining the Congress.
While Tewari did not name anyone, Kumar was earlier a CPI member. “As speculation abounds about certain Communist leaders joining @INCIndia it perhaps may be instructive to revisit a 1973 book, ‘Communists in Congress, Kumarmanglam’s Thesis’. The more things change, the more they perhaps remain the same. I re-read it today”.
The tweet also pointed to the concern among a section of Congress leaders that the Gandhi siblings are bending the party left.
Amid the criticism of the G-23 that the Congress needs to become more relevant, the import of these two young leaders seems like an attempt to co-opt two anti-BJP faces. While Mevani emerged as the face of the Dalit protests in Gujarat in the wake of the Una flogging incident, Kumar symbolised students’ protests and their freedom to express themselves in campuses. Additionally, as a Dalit leader, Mevani will add to the party’s attempts to reach out to the community.
Moreover, the Congress has been struggling in the duo’s home states of Gujarat and Bihar. And several young leaders — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasada and Priyanka Chaturvedi – have left the party in the last two years.
“Some people are trying to destroy the tradition of deliberation, culture, history, the present and future of the country… I read somewhere that you should choose your enemies, and you will make friends automatically. I have chosen the country’s oldest and most democratic (party). Many young people feel that if the Congress is not there, there won’t be a country,” said Kumar.
“When the Opposition is weak, the authorities adopt a dictatorial attitude,” he said. “If the largest Opposition party, the biggest ship, is not saved, the smaller boats will not survive,” he said.
Asked about leaving the CPI, Kumar said: “I was born into that party. My thinking, understanding capability is part of that training, and I am proud of that.” But, he said, “it is prudent that you set aside the unhappiness, the disagreements between each other and save the village, because the country belongs to all.” He added that the “question of left and right has become irrelevant”.
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi, B R Ambedkar, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ashfaqullah Khan and Bhagat Singh among others, Kumar said the conditions prevailing in the country now resemble the pre-1947 period.
“The story that started from Gujarat, that story has created such a riot in the country in the last 6-7 years, it is in front of us. As a nation, we are going through an unprecedented crisis,” said Mevani.
Calling it an “attack on the Constitution, the idea of India, on the country’s democracy”, he said “Delhi and Nagpur” (RSS headquarters) were sowing “hatred and enmity between brothers”, through “a well-thought conspiracy”.
“In such a situation, not as a politician, but as an Indian citizen, what is my fundamental, foremost responsibility? The answer is that the country’s Constitution, democracy and the idea of India has to be saved. And to do that, I have to stand with the Congress, which not only contributed to, but led the freedom fight,” he said.
Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said, “It is natural that any person, be it Kanhaiya Kumar or anyone else, if he has an ideology which is anti-India, then the first choice is Congress. The reason is simple: the Congress today, its leadership and ideology, is synonymous with divisive, anti-India politics.”
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