Loyalty versus capability, or for that matter merit, has always been a burning debate in the Congress. And the leadership (read, the Gandhis) has invariably leaned towards loyalty when rewarding party leaders. And in many cases, decisions are also taken to balance power, caste and regional equations, or to accommodate and adjust various factions and leaders.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s decision to induct four new members into the all-powerful Congress Working Committee (CWC) is perhaps a mix of all these reasons. Kumari Selja and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are in the main body, T Subbarami Reddy is a permanent invitee, and Ajay Kumar Lallu is a special invitee to the CWC.
T Subbarami Reddy
Reddy was a Rajya Sabha MP from 2002 to 2020 spanning three terms. Before that, he represented the Visakhapatnam seat twice in the Lok Sabha. He is loyal to the core. A prominent businessman who has also produced many movies, the soft-spoken Reddy is a veteran leader from Andhra Pradesh, where the Congress is now more or less extinct.
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In the last Assembly elections in 2019, the party contested 174 seats and forfeited its deposit in all the constituencies. It drew a blank in the Lok Sabha too. The state had sent the highest number of Congress MPs, 33, to the Lok Sabha in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, up from 29 in 2004. The party also won the Assembly elections consecutively in 2004 and 2009.
So, inducting a veteran from Andhra Pradesh into the Congress high table is not a surprise given the fact that the party is desperately trying to revive its electoral fortunes in the state. He belongs to the influential Reddy community too and is financially resourceful. But then why him? Many of the leaders from the state too are wondering.
“Perhaps because of his loyalty. He is a senior man who has been loyal to the party for a long time. What can I say? It is after all the president’s prerogative,” said one leader. Another said, “If the party wanted to send a message to the Reddy community, it could have picked Kiran Kumar Reddy, the former chief minister.”
Kiran Kumar Reddy resigned from the Congress in 2014 in protest against the bifurcation of Andhra but returned to the party four years later. And since then, he has been waiting in the wings. “He should have been invited to the Udaipur Chintan Shivir. After all, he is a former chief minister. As you know, strange are the ways of the Congress,” said one leader.
In the case of Selja, there is not much surprise. A five-time MP — four terms in the Lok Sabha and once in the Rajya Sabha — Selja is very close to Sonia Gandhi. She was asked to resign as Haryana Congress president to make way for a Bhupinder Singh Hooda loyalist Udai Bhan in April. The party leadership had to placate Hooda to splinter the G-23 group of senior dissidents. Hooda was a prominent signatory to the letter the 23 senior leaders had written to Gandhi in 2020.
Hooda, after all, is among a few leaders with ground support in the entire Hindi belt. The party leadership could not have ignored him for long. Selja also lost out in the Rajya Sabha nomination race last month. While Hooda was keen that either Ghulam Nabi Azad or Anand Sharma, or one of his loyalists, be sent to the Upper House, the party leadership fielded Ajay Maken.
Selja, who has no love lost for Hooda, would not have contested from Haryana in any case. Sources said Randeep Surjewala too turned down an offer to contest from Haryana. He was then fielded from Rajasthan. The threat of sabotage perhaps weighed heavily on the minds of all these leaders. Maken’s surprise defeat perhaps was a confirmation.
A Dalit face, Selja hence had to be accommodated and adjusted. Hooda’s son and Rajya Sabha MP Deepinder Hooda is a special invitee to the CWC.
Retaining Hooda as the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and appointing Bhan as the Haryana unit president, the party leadership managed to placate the veteran leader and gave him the control of the state unit to him on a platter.
The other leaders had to be accommodated. So, Surjewala was sent to the Rajya Sabha. Captain Ajay Singh Yadav, another detractor of Hooda, was appointed head of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) OBC Department. Kiran Choudhry’s daughter Shruti was appointed a working president of the Haryana Congress.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi
The induction of Singhvi, a prominent lawyer who has been an effective spokesperson for years, was also perhaps due and a recognition of his legal acumen and debating skills. But his induction, interestingly, comes days after prominent G-23 leader Kapil Sibal, the former union minister who too waged many legal battles for the party, left it. Singhvi, like Sibal, has fought and won many legal battles for the Congress.
Be it the 2016 Uttarakhand case, where the Supreme Court ruled in its favour to have President’s Rule in the state revoked, or the Karnataka battle of 2018, when the apex court in a midnight order called for a floor test, Singhvi has many feathers in his cap. With Sonia and Rahul Gandhi facing Enforcement Directorate (ED) heat in the National Herald case, his entry into the CWC shows the party’s increasing reliance on the lawyer. He has appeared for them in the case.
During the rule of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Sibal and Ashwani Kumar, another prominent lawyer-leader, were made ministers. M Veerappa Moily too was in charge of the Law Ministry for a brief period. Singhvi bided his time and, with this, has finally received recognition from the party.
Ajay Kumar Lallu
The induction of former Uttar Pradesh Congress president Lallu as a special invitee is seen as a reward for loyalty. He is considered close to AICC general secretary in charge of UP Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Interestingly, he is the only one among the four who is under 50 years old. At the Udaipur conclave, the party decided to provide 50 per cent representation for those below 50 years at all levels, including the CWC. The 42-year-old had to be accommodated since he was asked to resign as UP Pradesh Congress Committee chief after the Assembly election rout earlier this year.
Again, many people in the party are wondering about the reason for his induction. “Is he being rewarded for the party’s rout in UP? I don’t know what message we are sending. Instead of fixing accountability, we are rewarding those who presided over the defeat. Priyanka too continues to be in charge of UP. It is simple. Once you are in the system and you are loyal … you will keep getting posts, whether you perform or not,” said one leader.
To his credit, Lallu, a firebrand orator, as the UP Congress chief had tried to energise the party, waging street protests and trying hard to create a visibility factor for the Congress. He spent several days in jail too.
“He worked hard but, of course, with not much success. But the Congress has no real presence on the ground in UP. And the brand has no recall value either. At least he did not jump ship like many other leaders did in UP. So, it is perhaps a reward for his loyalty and hard work,” said one leader.
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