New Delhi: A mood of despair prevails in the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road. More than anything else, it is Rahul Gandhi's inner circle, an elite coterie of outsiders, which is being silently opposed by the rank and file of the party.
On top of the list figures the name of Rahul's close aide Alankar Sawai, a former ICICI Bank official who helps the party president in documentation, research and in suggesting ideas on political strategy. "Alankar wields tremendous clout in the party. Rahul might ignore the advice of senior leaders, but usually pays attention to Alankar's inputs. All Congress chief ministers and even (senior leader) Ahmed Patel give him importance," said a party functionary.
The leaders who often fail to seek appointment with Rahul Gandhi blame Kaushal Vidhyarthi or K Raju when they find all the doors closed for them. The common perception is that the coterie serves as a wall between the leader and his loyal followers. An Oxford returnee, Vidyarthi became close to Rahul after his private secretary Kanishka Singh was sidelined following the party's 2014 poll debacle.
Then came K Raju, an ex-IAS officer. "We have no complaint against Rahul ji. He has been always kind to us, but these courtiers do not allow us to meet him," revealed a visibly angry MLA from Rajasthan who was seen at the party office on Tuesday.
The old guard which sits at 24 Akbar Road is hardly welcomed at Rahul's official residence at 12 Tuglak Lane in New Delhi. "Kishore Upadhyay and V George were stenographers here (Akbar Road) in this office like me. They were handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi and had performed better than these outsiders. They were well versed with Congress culture and its spirit," said a mid-level functionary of the AICC working committee at the headquarters for the past 35 years.
The party cadre and some of the second-rung leaders are of the view that several key persons in Rahul's inner circle have an inclination towards communist ideology. For instance, Sandeep Singh, considered an outsider in the party. He was earlier linked to the All India Students Association (AISA) which is known for its association with the communists. As a student leader of JNU, Sandeep showed black flags to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005. He is currently one of the political advisors to Rahul and is seen as the one who helps in drafting speeches for Rahul as well as Priyanka.
"One of the incidents which affected Congress party's nationalist image was Rahul's visit to JNU in support of Kanhaiya Kumar. If someone is surrounded by Left-leaning aides, then such incidents (the one at JNU) are bound to happen, harming the party's impeccable image. Even Mark Tully (veteran journalist) in one of his articles had suggested that Congress should have a majority view instead of falling in trap of being dubbed as a party of the minorities," said a former national secretary of the Congress.
Former bureaucrat Dhiraj Srivastava, investor banker Praveen Chakraborti, Michigan Business School graduate Sachin Rao and a former SPG officer, K B Byju, are the other members of Rahul's coterie who are perceived as outsiders by the old guard.
It seems that while the leadership crisis continues to bother the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, there could be a change in the office of the party president, in view of the resentment prevailing against the "outsiders", particularly for those having an inclination for the Left ideology.