Senior Journalist & Author
Rahul Gandhi’s rather abrupt exit as the 87th president of the Congress party has put a question mark over a dozen influential professionals who were part of his team. Each has domain expertise and proximity to Rahul. Most of them are in their early forties. They had chucked lucrative careers as investment bankers, techies, analysts, security personnel etc. to take the plunge into politics.
Sources say that if Rahul hangs around as a ‘leader at large’, some of them may get absorbed in his team, perhaps funded and supported by the Congress party. Else, a rather bleak and uncertain future stares at them.
Until May 25, 2019, Alankar Sawai was considered Rahul’s eyes and ears. A former employee of a leading private bank and IIM graduate, most papers, appointments etc used to go through him, AICC functionary K Raju and Kaushal Kishore Vidarthee. Alankar, who hailed from the weaker section, had strong left-of-centre leanings and was viewed as someone who influenced Rahul. He used to travel with Rahul for public meetings and rallies. Alankar’s strength was to coordinate with 24 Akbar Road on behalf of 12 Tughlak Crescent, New Delhi (Rahul’s residence-cum-office). Many senior Congress leaders think Alankar may quit if Rahul does not have a full-fledged office in his future role as Congress’ ‘leader at large’.
Kanishka Singh is another key Rahul aide. Formerly with the New York-based merchant banking firm Lazard Freres & Co and son of diplomat SK Singh, Kanishka is handling a lot of work that revolves around the Nehru-Gandhi family-run trusts and AICC properties spread over the country. Kanishka had been working with party treasurer Motilal Vora who is currently AICC general secretary in charge of administration. At an informal level, Kanishka has reportedly been looking after in-house publications The National Herald, Quami Awaze and monitoring legal cases relating to The National Herald. Buzz in the Congress circles is that Kanishka may be drafted in the parent organisation due to his proximity to Priyanka Gandhi and the 'asset' tag that comes with him.
The genial Kaushal Kishore
Vidyarthee was looking after appointments of Rahul. Kaushal also has a strong CV. With a D Phil in social policy and an M Phil in development studies from Oxford, the INLAK scholar would have had a cushy job as an urban planner had Rahul not invited him to join his personal stall. Kaushal, hailing from Purnea, Bihar, is a graduate from Wolfson College, Oxford, and the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. There is no dearth of Congress leaders who think Kaushal is not only good with computers but also understands ground-level politics of the Hindi heartland well. He is likely to be drafted in if the likes of Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora get a chance to run the grand old party.
The affable KB Byju was part of the elite Special Protection Group when he quit his job to settle for an uncertain future. Byju was a logistics man, looking after, arranging tours and rallies of Rahul. The party may want his services, but Byju may prefer to stay with Rahul if he decides to hold padyatras and mass contact programmes.
A man of various seasons, Sachin Rao was made part of the AICC manifesto committee for the Lok Sabha elections. Rao is an MBA in corporate strategy and international business from Michigan Business School. From 2006-12, Rao spent time trying to restore inner party democracy in the Youth Congress and National Student Union of India, holding elections in the party's frontal organisations. If Rao does not find a place in the main organisation, he would return to civil society movement.
Sandeep Singh is a wordsmith for Rahul. The AICC chief’s fondness for Kanahiya Kumar that resulted in him paying a visit to JNU was reportedly Sandeep’s idea who many think had AISA bent of mind during his student days. In the present day Congress, Sandeep is a marked man and unless Priyanka steps in, Rahul’s speech writer may have acceptability issues in the new establishment. There are some who think Sandeep would fill in the place of Dhiraj Srivastava in Team Priyanka.
Kishori Lal Sharma, the long-term Amethi-Raebareli-Sultanpur manager has become vulnerable following Rahul’s defeat from Amethi. A Ludhiana native, Kishori Lal, however, has many cards up his sleeve. His fate hangs in the balance as per Sonia and Priyanka’s assessment of him.
Krishna Allavaru, an LLM from Georgetown University, was a rising star as a point man for the Indian Youth Congress and NSUI. As joint secretary of the IYC, Krishna was instrumental in initiating some youth-centric policies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. He has strong reasons to survive in the post-Rahul era.
Divya Spandana, aka Ramya, is an established name in Karnataka politics. Having won a Lok Sabha bypoll from Mandya, the former social media head of the AICC should have had no reasons to worry. But post May 25, when Rahul resigned as Congress president, Divya deleted her twitter account in a huff and disappeared. This act has provided ammunition to her rivals who are closing ranks to ensure that the suave actress does not stage a comeback. Last heard, the Congress is looking for a new social media head, with one of the old guard trying to field his favourite. This post is a thorny one as it has a potential of triggering anonymous communication and tech-driven dirty tricks.
K Raju, a former IAS officer, is a visible face at Rahul’s residence-cum-office. An ex-chairman of the AICC’s Department for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Raju is a full-time AICC functionary. He may have the option to return to his home state, Telangana, to strengthen the party or stay at 24, Akbar Road.
Veteran Congress leader Margret Alva’s son Nikhil Alva was reportedly handling Rahul’s Twitter account and tipped to head AICC’s social media department. But with the old guard taking effective control, Nikhil may find his continuation a bit daunting.