Lucknow: Ripples of discontent in the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee continue to surface even two months after the huge overhaul in the state committee. The strong and clear rebuff to the old guard in the state Congress on October 7 had seen the appointment of Ajay Singh Lallu as the UPCC president, succeeding Raj Babbar, who resigned in May after the rout in Lok Sabha election.
Lallu’s team comprised four vice-presidents, 12 general secretaries and the new leader of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Legislative Party. Besides, 24 secretaries, 18 members to the advisory council for the general secretaries, and eight members to the working group on strategy and planning were also appointed.
This major overhaul had seen the complete sidelining of party veterans who had been occupying various positions in UPCC for years, or others who had been common faces in the party for years or even decades. This old guard had been unhappy with party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in view of the party’s disappointing performance in Lok Sabha election, in which Rahul Gandhi had lost from Amethi, leaving the party with sole representation by Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli.
The resentment among the veterans kept surfacing with statements and comments that directly or indirectly attacked the manner in which the changes had been made in the UPCC. One veteran Shia leader Siraj Mehndi had even tendered his resignation in October saying that not a single Shia was taken in the new team.
The next round of purge came on November 24 when 10 leaders were expelled from the party for indiscipline. At an earlier meeting held at the house of a former MP, these leaders had openly criticised the party’s move to have a new team of leaders aged below 50 years. Those expelled included several former state ministers, members of the AICC, former MPs and legislators. Prominent among them were Santosh Singh, Ram Krishna Dwivedi, Satyadev Tripathi, Rajendra Singh Solanki, Siraj Mehndi, Vinod Chaudhary and others. The notice issued to them clearly said they were “continuously and publicly opposing some decisions of the AICC related to UP Congress Committee by holding meetings. These meetings have maligned the image of Congress. This conduct of yours is in violation of the party's ethics and policies.” The expelled leaders said they would meet Sonia Gandhi to appeal against the action but they have not been granted time for any such meeting so far.
In a sign that the new leadership was keen to continue the purge, the party a few days later filed a petition in the Assembly, seeking disqualification of its MLA Aditi Singh. The reason cited in the petition was that Aditi Singh had defied the party's whip to stay away from a special Assembly session to mark 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2. She had skipped the party’s ‘Shanti yatra’ and instead had attended the special session convened by the UP government. Her meeting with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath on October 16 also sparked speculations of her exit from the party.
In February this year, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had been given the responsibility as the party’s general secretary in-charge of eastern UP. She had actively campaigned for the April-May Lok Sabha election but the party had ended up losing one of the two seats it had in the state. Since then, a section of the leaders has been critical of her ways in dealing with party loyalists and lack of long-term planning to take on the BJP. A veteran Congress leader, who has once been a vocal spokesman of the party, said “the party has not learnt to take all factions together mainly because of disinterested leaders being appointed as UPCC president.” The allusion is to previous UPCC presidents Raj Babbar and Nirmal Khatri, who spent very little time in UPCC and in Lucknow as such.
Factionalism keeps rearing its head frequently whenever the party organises any protest programme, the latest being in Kanpur where leaders of different factions not only avoided each other but reached the protest separately with their supporters. Many senior leaders in Lucknow too are known for leading factions based on caste or region. Loyalty to previous national party president Rahul Gandhi was once considered the ultimate stamp of approval and authority, but according to some veterans, this, too, is not worthy any more. He has visited his former constituency Amethi only once after the Lok Sabha election, in July, as he has been focussing on strengthening the party in Kerala after winning the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat.
Priyanka is scheduled to visit Lucknow on December 6 and 7 to review the preparations for the mega rally scheduled to be held in Delhi on December 14. This would be her first visit to Lucknow after the revolt by some senior party leaders and their subsequent expulsion from the party.