To those who know Mukul Balkrishna Wasnik, this is an unusual situation for the 63-year-old low-profile Congress Dalit leader from Maharashtra to be in.
As the Congress looks around for someone to take the party presidency, in the wake of the shock waves coming from Rajasthan, Wasnik is one of the names thrown up in the churning. That the Congress relieved him of his charge of general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh in recent days has lent credence to this theory.
The man who has always shunned the limelight, a silent witness to the political upheavals in the AICC, thus finds himself a player in the biggest show the Congress has put up in years – even if unintentionally.
In his long political career spanning over four decades, Wasnik has always steered away from controversy. Among the party’s longest serving general secretaries, he has held responsibilities of various states, and was recently rushed to Goa after almost all the Congress MLAs there moved to the BJP.
A senior Maharashtra Congress leader says Wasnik is “surely in the reckoning”, not just for his clean record but also the fact that he is a Dalit. Another notable feature of his career has been that it has been spent largely in Delhi, putting him at the heart of action.
Wasnik also has political lineage behind him, with his father, the late Balkrishna Wasnik, once an MP. Hailing from Vidarbha, Wasnik rose the political ladder gradually, and was the president of the National Students’ Union of India from 1984 to 1986, and president of the Indian Youth Congress from 1988 to 1990 before moving on to electoral politics. He stormed into notice then, becoming the youngest MP at the time at 25 years. However, since then, his electoral record has been mixed.
Wasnik first won from Buldhana in 1984, and while he retained the seat twice more, he also lost thrice. In 2009, Wasnik moved to Ramtek, near Nagpur, and won, but then lost in 2014.
He served as Union Minister of State, Sports, Youth Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs, under Narasimha Rao in 1993-96, and during the UPA government of 2009-14 led by Manmohan Singh was the Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment. Currently, he is a Rajya Sabha MP, having started his term in 2020.
While measured in his words otherwise, Wasnik has not minced them when it comes to the RSS-BJP’s “communal politics”. Insiders in the Congress say that he had opposed tooth and nail the decision to align with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra after the 2019 Assembly elections to form the government. He had expressed concern about the Congress being seen as compromising on “secularism”, sources said.
His politics though has largely not concerned Maharashtra, with Wasnik mostly blossoming in Delhi, thanks to his unflinching loyalty to the party high command and the Gandhi family.
As a result, when his name emerged as one of the signatories on the G-23 letter of August 2020, seeking widespread changes in the party, it had come as a complete surprise.
A senior leader requesting anonymity says still no one saw Wasnik as a “rebel”. “We believe he was still the eyes and ears of the AICC top brass. He is not somebody who would ever compromise his loyalty to the Congress high command,” the leader said, underlining that the G-23 group was not really rebelling but only seeking changes in the party.
If the party president’s post does come Mukul Balkrishna Wasnik’s way, it will be the second time he would leave his colleagues surprised. The first time was three years ago, when at age 60, he tied the knot with friend Raveena Khurana.