The Central Bureau of Investigation has questioned All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary KC Venugopal in connection with the alleged sexual exploitation of a con woman involved in the solar scam in Kerala. Sources on Tuesday said Venugopal was questioned in the case a week ago at the agency’s headquarters in Delhi.
Much like the late Ahmed Patel, who had a pulse on politics knowing everyone within the party and without, Venugopal is also said to have given enough proof of his political acumen. His confidants say he convinced former Congress president Rahul Gandhi to fight from a second constituency in the 2019 general elections. Proving Venugopal right was Rahul’s victory from Wayanad in Kerala and loss from the Congress pocket borough of Amethi.
The senior Congress leader’s detractors claim that the decision to contest from Muslim-dominated Wayanad contributed to Rahul’s loss in Uttar Pradesh did not dent Venugopal’s rise. And neither did the allegations of his involvement in the solar scam case. For party insiders, the AICC general secretary is Rahul Gandhi’s eyes and ears in the opaque ecosystem of the Congress — essentially he plays the role that Patel used to play for Sonia.
As a result of his pre-eminent role in the party, a lot of the criticism following electoral losses gets directed at him. Venugopal, who is known as KC in party circles, was once considered part of the “reformist” young brigade of the Congress in Kerala, seeking to rid it from the control of veterans K Karunakaran, his mentor, and AK Antony.
It was in 1991 that Venugopal first came to the limelight when Karunakaran, then the Kerala CM, got him a Lok Sabha ticket from Kasaragod. Just 28 years old at the time and the president of the party students’ wing, Venugopal lost narrowly. By 1995, he turned against his mentor over the decision of then Congress president and Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to suspend Arjun Singh from the primary membership of the party. Karunakaran was aligned with Rao and had his patronage.
By the time Karunakaran made way for Antony as CM in March 1995, Venugopal was part of a band of young “third group” of leaders led by Ramesh Chennithala, G Karthikeyan and MI Shanavas. They saw themselves as reformists or correctionists (Thiruthalvaadi in Malayalam), fighting the dominance of Karunakaran and Antony.
Venugopal first entered the state Assembly in 1996 and repeated his performance in 2001 and 2006. In 2004, he became a minister in the Oommen Chandy government. By 2009, he was a Lok Sabha MP, and in another two years, a Union minister of state. It was seen as a gesture towards the Nair community to which he belongs. The Congress was decimated in the 2014 general elections but Venugopal was among the handful of MPs who won from Kerala, and was made the party’s whip.
When the G-23 group of leaders rebelled against the high command to push for organisational reform, Venugopal, once the reformist, ironically found himself on the other side of the divide.
A student activist while still in school, a volleyball player in college, a post-graduate in mathematics, and a leader who has risen from the violent politics of Kannur, Venugopal has shown dexterity not just in political calculations but also in choosing sides well. He knows loyalty has a premium in the family-controlled party, and those close to him say he has demonstrated that amply by showing a willingness to take the rap for the leadership. While once close to Chennithala and also in the not-so-bad books of Antony — the two are said to have both backed him in Delhi — Venugopal’s ties with the state leadership are now strained.