New Delhi: As India’s Grand Old Party marks a generational shift in its leadership, it also heralds a new crop of behind-the-scenes players who will now pull the strings.
During her 19-year tenure, Sonia Gandhi — the longest-serving Congress President — relied on a fiercely loyal group of advisors, both political and otherwise.
As the old guard moves out, Rahul Gandhi, too, brings with him a hand-picked group of individuals who might help him run the show.
Rahul Gandhi's Inner Circle:
The Congress scion has, from the beginning, indicated that he wants to change the set political order and bring in a new discourse. His hand-picked inner-circle reflects the ‘new-age’ politics he preaches:
KAUSHAL K VIDYARTHEE
Kaushal Vidyarthee is said to be one of the points of contact when someone needs to talk to Rahul or vice-versa.
Vidyarthee is part of the new-age group which Rahul thought would be able to connect him with the masses. The plan, however, backfired as the party kept losing election after election. Vidyarthee and his colleagues were criticised for “only being good with computers”, but not being able to understand ground-level politics.
He entered politics in 2003 as part of Sheila Dikshit's electoral campaign. Kanishka Singh had quit his job with New York-based merchant banking firm Lazard Freres & Co to take the plunge with Congress.
He caught the eye of Congress bigwigs after his 2004 article in Outlook magazine. His sharp mind and successful prediction that Sonia Gandhi would win the 2004 Lok Sabha elections brought him closer to Rahul.
Singh was instrumental in studying caste and community compositions to identify a particular candidate’s chances. Some media reports suggest that he is now an understudy to treasurer Motilal Vora, to learn the ropes of the trade once the veteran politician retires.
The former SPG officer quit his service in 2010 and is now in-charge of Rahul Gandhi's security detail. Byju has an active Twitter handle and constantly uses it to rebuke PM Narendra Modi and the BJP. Despite being the chief of intelligence in Rahul's security detail, Byju also oversees logistics and media.
A former ICICI Bank employee, Alankar Sawai was in-charge of documentation and research for Rahul Gandhi. He, along with Kaushal Vidyarthee, accompanies Rahul on each visit outside Delhi. Sawai was also looking after the social media team of Rahul Gandhi before Divya Spandana a.k.a Ramya took over the reins.
The MBA in corporate strategy and international business from Michigan Business School manages Youth Congress and NSUI organisational setups. He heads the Election Commission that looks after the elevation of leaders in both organisations. Rao is said to have turned his focus to helping Rahul after the Congress leader spotted him when the former joined the Centre for Civil Society in Delhi.
Sonia Gandhi's Close Aides:
Initially, there were doubts over how well this 'rank outsider' could lead India's largest political party. Not only did she carry out the task with immense poise and control, she also managed to garner her own personal coterie:
Long-time private secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Vincent George was once considered the most powerful man in the Congress Durbar. In 2001, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a case against him. Three years later, when the CBI could not find conclusive evidence, Sonia's right-hand man was back in the inner circle.
PP MADHAVAN and SV PILLAI
Considered the 'eyes and ears' of Sonia Gandhi, PP Madhavan and SV Pillai were technically central government employees but at par with Vincent George in having the Congress president’s ear. The two replaced George, who, over the years, was eased out. While Pillai was trusted by Priyanka Gandhi, Madhavan carried Rahul's confidence. When Vincent George vacated the high-seat next to Sonia Gandhi, the duo grew in prominence.
In 2006, when Sonia was contesting the Raebareli bypoll, the then Class-II officers had to disassociate themselves from 10 Janpath for a brief period after the Congress president was reminded of the episode which led to the 1975 Emergency. The Allahabad High Court had annulled then PM Indira Gandhi's Raebareli election of 1971 after it was established that her trusted assistant Yashpal Kapoor, a government servant, was her campaign coordinator during the elections.
It was Sanjay Gandhi, who in the 1980s, wanted a new District Magistrate for Sultanpur and chanced upon Chatterjee. Political commentator Sanjay Baru's tell-all memoir about the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) during his stint with Manmohan Singh threw the mild-mannered officer into the limelight. Baru's book, The Accidental Prime Minister, showed Chatterjee, who had been appointed Principal Secretary to PM in UPA-II, as the link between the South Block and 10 Janpath.
According to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation's website, Suman Dubey is a former journalist and one of the founding members of the charitable institution. Dubey's association with the Gandhis began when he and Rajiv found each other's friendship during school days. Apart from Sonia and Rahul, the National Herald case filed by Subramaniam Swamy has named Suman Dubey. It also names Sam Pitroda, Motilal Vohra and Oscar Fernandes.
The Rajasthan Administrative Service Officer from the 1994 batch is also part of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. A close aide of Priyanka Gandhi, he is considered an expert on Amethi and Raebareli. Part of the group which got pushed up when the UPA came to power in 2004, Srivastava was one of the initial officers to move to Delhi as Special Duty (OSD) to the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC).
He recently made headlines when, ahead of the UP Assembly elections, Priyanka sent him to negotiate with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav. The latter was reportedly miffed with the move as he expected the Congress to send veteran leaders or members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) for the seat-sharing talks.
KISHORI LAL SHARMA
Another Amethi-Raebareli expert, Kishori Lal Sharma was Sonia Gandhi's local representative in the Gandhi bastion. A Ludhiana native, Sharma has been with the Congress for close to three decades. Also a close aide to Priyanka, he was appointed as secretary to Bihar Congress in 2014.
While the hand-over would probably push Rahul to build the party from the ground up, he certainly cannot complain about being handed an establishment in shambles.