ENARADA, New Delhi,
By Ajay N Jha
A senior Congress leader disclosed a very interesting story about Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s core team and its understanding of politics. According to him, Mr Gandhi had sent his closet aide to RLD Leader Ajit Singh’s residence to talk about forging a political alliance in Uttar Pradesh a few years ago. As Ajit Singh started putting up his conditions before the alliance, Rahul’s emissary pulled out his lap-top and started reeling out data on the voter’s strength in a few segments and so on. Ajit Singh got so enraged with it that he asked the aide to leave his house immediately and that was the end of the story. !!
The quality and class of leader is known by his ability not only to understand the strength and weakness of his team but also his acumen in coordinating and calibrating them for the best results. His ability also lies in making a fine balance between angels and anglers, brokers and bamboozlers, crooks and comrades and saints and Satans and use them at right place and at right time in the best interest of the party to outmaneuver political rivals.
Very little is known to the public about the actual thought process and ability of Rahul Gandhi as politician because he neither believes in being accessible and available to the media for any information interaction on a regular basis nor does he meets with his own party men as and when he wants. Added to their chagrin is the fact that his SPG commandos don’t allow anyone near him even when he comes to AICC office for meetings.
Under these circumstances, one can form any opinion about him only on the basis of what his close aides profess and espouse and whatever appears in the media on the basis of his quips and quotes on various issues and occasions. The general opinion about him is that while he has tried to imbibe and combine various qualities and of both Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi in various measures, he could neither replicate Rajiv Gandhi’s sense and sensibility nor Sanjay Gandhi’s dexterity and dare-devilry and at the end, it was a case of neither chicken nor fowl. !!
Many political commentators and media watchers also say that instead of depending on his own feelings and instincts, Rahul Gandhi has been depending more on a batch of aristocrats, technocrats, bureaucrats and a few ‘Jholawals with NGO background (as Sharad Pawar has alleged) who have been pulling him in different directions at different times on a plethora of issues and made a hash of his own image and credibility as a “right thinking politician”. His outlandish statements at times on very serious and sensitive issues have only invited loud jeers not only from the rival political parties but also from a section of media which finds him oscillating between Mahatma Gandhi and Gautam Buddha (read his statement on marriage and dynastic politics). Senior journalists like Kuldip Naiyar and a few others have also accused him of being politically naive and lacking magnanimity and maturity.
One of the most important names in the inner circle of Rahul Gandhi is that of Madhusudan Devram Mistry who is the closest confidant and in charge of all back room strategies and Planning. Mistry is known as Rahul Gandhi’s man Friday who invites equal amount of applause and criticism for his cut and cut to cut ways. He is one of those backroom leaders who have earned a name for winning electoral battles from behind the curtain.
His confidants say that it was Mistry’s astute poll management skills that helped Congress successfully translate widespread anger against BJP government in Karnataka into votes for Congress party. Before Karnataka, Mistry had ensured spectacular victory for Congress party in Kerala assembly elections.
Though he is originally an RSS man, today he has got the eyes and ears of Rahul Gandhi. He was an acolyte of Shankarsinh Vaghela when he was in BJP and had RSS leanings. He left BJP in 1995 when Vaghela revolted and formed his own Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP). Mistry joined RJP that merged with Congress later on. With the merger of RJP with Congress, Madhusudan Mistry became a Congressman and then his metamorphosis began.
Mistry first entered Lok Sabha in 2001 when he contested 2001 by-election to Sabarkantha Lok Sabha seat and defeated BJP candidate Upendra Trivedi by over 20,000 votes. He once again won the seat in 2004 Lok Sabha elections. In 2009, he lost the seat to the BJP candidate.
After Congres party’s successive victories in Kerala and Karnataka assembly elections, Mistry’s political graph underwent a steep rise and as a recognition of his poll management skills, Rahul Gandhi recently gave him charge of Uttar Pradesh, the most crucial state in Lok Sabha elections, replacing stalwart Digvijay Singh.
In this contest, it is interesting to recall a chapter written by People’s Union for Civil Societies (PUCL)’s Ghanshyam Shah in Takashi Shinoda’s book ‘The Other Gujarat’, Disha NGO (Developing initiatives for social and human action) was formed by Madhusudan Mistry in 1985. Mistry began his political activity as a trade unionist with the Majur Mahajan, Textile Labour Union in Ahmedabad. He then joined OXFAM and supported small grass-root groups. The purpose of Disha was to work as a supportive core group for a network of grassroots people’s organizations. It should be mentioned here that OXFAM is foreign organization which has its India headquarter in Hyderabad.
The chapter also says that Madhusudan Mistry’s NGO Disha received Rs.2,04,85,107 as foreign donation in year 2011-12. Purposes of receiving this fund were described as; Scholarship for girls, budget analysis, rural development, welfare of children, welfare of scheduled tribes and others.
The fact however remains that Mistry as emerged as the ‘Chief mason of the Congress mansion’ as seen in the light of his rising stature and a bigger list of responsibilities in Rahul Gandhi’s scheme of things. He is a part of Rahul’s election coordination committee for the 2014 polls but his role extends beyond. He has been deployed as a one-man emissary to meet district Congress committee presidents in all states and gather information about potential Lok Sabha candidates at the grassroots levels. He is also head of one of the three sub-groups of election coordination committee and as the ones who formulates strategies and manages the entire campaign of political parties at the micro-level.
Mistry’s supporters claim that he is a die-hard honest man who does not touch money. That is why he endeared Rahul Gandhi. He is also supposed to be a no-nonsense character and quite different from the other politicians.
They rate him a as a master strategist and a visionary. They also claim that it was Mistry and his” master strategy “that got Congress party a splendid victory.
However, a critical examination of his achievements counted by his acolytes reveal that there are too many gaping holes in these claims and the ground reality.
First, in the last Kerala assembly elections, the Congress –led UDF may have scrapped through by a whisper. But that cannot be called Mistry’s achievement because Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Amul babies’ recorded a mixed performance in the Assembly elections in Kerala. On Mistry’s advice Rahul Gandhi had fielded the maximum number of 18 candidates including state Youth Congress president Vishnunath and NSUI president Hibi Eden. Gandhi had also addressed an election rally in Eden’s constituency at Ernakulam. Both Eden and Vishunath won but large chunk of the young Turks could not win there. His candidates were defeated in Ambalapuzha, Udumbanchola, Chalakudy, Koilandi, Chattannoor, Chadayamangalam and Kundara and most of these young Turks lost their deposits also.
Then came Karnataka Assembly polls where the BJP proved its own worst enemy and the Congress victory was more borne out of a negative vote against the BJP than the success of Misty’s Machiavellian machinations.
Neither Mistry got along well with KPCC President Dr G Parameshwar nor was he available to other senior Congress leaders for meetings and consultations.
So much talk about Mistry’s honesty also got a little bit of taint and dent in the light of ticket distribution and allegations of Congress ticket sale in a few areas. The presence of people like Hemant Jhala and a few close confidants of Mistry from the business and accountancy field in Congress party war room apart from his strong recommendation to an Ahmedabad advertising agency called NIKSUN for the Congress party’s media management also raised a few eyebrows.
Apart from the colossal failure of Congress party in Gujarat Assembly polls last year where both GPCC President Arjun Modwadia and CLP leader Shakti Sinh Gohil got trounced despite Rahul Gandhi changing at least 30 candidates at the last moment on the advice of Mistry, the rout of Congress candidates in the bye elections where Mistry was given the charge of candidates selection, also put a big question mark on his ability and level of strategy in his own Home State against the Modi machine. The congress party lost both Porbandar and Banaskantha Lok sabha seats apart from Jetpur, Dhoraji, Limbdi and Modva Hadaf assembly seats with bigger margin than ever.
The results of latest round of Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi appear to have further dented Mistry’s reputation as a ‘failed strategist’ as he was in charge of ticket distribution for each of the four states apart from being the Chairman of the party’s central election committee and now, he may find it tough to explain what went wrong.
The Congress leadership has that there were serious issues about candidate selection, political management, coordination, campaign and crowd mobilisation. Some key strategists feared things had been “messed up” by people given crucial responsibilities despite their “inadequate experience” in poll management.
There were also complaints of MIstry’s role in handing over the media publicity job to the same Ahmedbad based company called NIKSUN which sub-let the whole campaign to a non-descript local company and could not match the aggressive BJP campaign in the State. The Bhopal based Atul Publicity which had been doing the Congress party campaign and publicity work for the last 20 years was not considered because it could cough up an exorbitant amount of commission quoted for the job in advance.
The feedback about mismanagement had rattled the party central leadership, which has high expectations from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh irrespective of pollsters’ predictions. One source of alarm was the extent of unrest triggered by ticket distribution in Madhya Pradesh. Another was the lack of coordination in campaigning in Chhattisgarh, where even a one per cent swing can change electoral fortunes.
In this context, the public statement of Ujjain-based Congress leader kalpana Parulekar accusing Digvijaya Singh of promoting factionalism in the state after the projection of Jyotiraditya Scindhia as the campaign committee chief and Satyavrat Chaturvedi’s allegation of AICC General Secretary hatching a conspiracy to weaken Scindhai’s campaign, can also be counted as an indirect to Mistry’s role.
Mistry has already been accused by Indore based leader Raghu Parmar for taking money before finalizing his ticket for Indore-5 constituency. Parmar had alleged in a Press Conference that money had exchanged hands in a Gujarat Hotel.
Yet Mistry remains as AICC General Secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh where the Congress party had won 22 seats in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Mistry has announced his decision to conduct a quasi-performance audit for every parliamentarian, where the central election committee will not only assess the existing strength of the Netas and the work they have done, but also take feedback for areas where the party should lend them support. He had also directed Union Ministers from Delhi to undertake tours of their respective areas and so on.
In Uttar Pradesh however, the biggest damper is Mistry’s name itself. In a caste and community conscious State like Uttar Pradesh, Mistry (Lohar) is known as a Carpenter and many congress leaders and committed party workers from the majority communities don’t feel enthused to meet him at all.
Secondly, his corporate style of functioning, English orientation and data-base brand of politics has already been resented by many local leaders. Even bigger problem is his accessibility. That is why he was roughed up at his own residence in South Avenue by a few Congress workers from Meerut when he refused to meet them and asked them to come to Lucknow when he visited that place next. Going to Lucknow to meet Mistry after taking prior appointment didn’t suit them as they felt that Delhi was hardly two hours long journey from Meerut. But they were more annoyed and anguished that their own party General Secretary insisted on seeking prior appointment for a small meeting. !!
And that explains the reason why the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh is going to face a rough weather in the forthcoming lok Sabha elections. AS per intelligence agencies reports, most of the sitting Union ministers from Uttar Pradesh were going to lose and the Congress party would not be in a position to reach double digit out of the total of 80 seats.
Under these circumstances, it remains to be seen how Rahul Gandhi’s main “Mistry” would be able to save the Congress Mansion and retain its sheen and lustre.
(Posted on December 12, 2013 @ 2pm)
(Ajay N Jha is a veteran journalist from both Print and Electronic media. He is Advisor to Prasar Bharti. The views expressed are his personal. His email id is Ajay N Jha <firstname.lastname@example.org> )
The views expressed on the website are those of the Columnists/ Authors/Journalists / Correspondents and do not necessarily reflect the views of ENARADA.