Is Rahul ok with party lawyer defending Vyapam accused?

Rasheed Kidwai | 07 Feb 2018 12:00 PM

Congress President Rahul Gandhi (Image: PTI/File)

It is time for Rahul Gandhi to settle down as Congress president and start taking decisions.

Perhaps nobody in the grand old party has the audacity to tell Rahul that time is running out. Instead of sitting on laurels of bypoll victories, Rahul has to start multi-task operations.

The Congress needs to get its act together in the five States where Assembly polls are scheduled to be held this year, offer clarity on key ideological issues, convene an AICC session to get a seal of legitimacy to the recently concluded organisational polls.

In Madhya Pradesh, lawyer Ajay Gupta, recently appointed as state head of Congress legal and human rights department, was spotted pleading for bail for key VYAPAM accused persons. The multi-crore VYAPAM (abbreviation of its Hindi name Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal) scam allegedly involves politicians, bureaucrats and high profile touts, and pertains to massive admissions and recruitments to Government medical colleges and departments by fraudulent means.

For the Congress, VYAPAM is a potent poll plank for November 2018 Assembly polls where the party would be making its fourth bid to dislodge the BJP. Many wonder how Rahul led Congress would handle picture of its legal and human rights department head appearing and pleading for VYAPAM accused who allegedly played havoc with lives of thousands of young students and job seekers.

In his defence, Gupta and his supporters cite the examples of party’s in-house lawyers ranging from Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, P Chidambaram, Vivek Tankha, Salman Khurshid and others who had been standing in many “politically incorrect” cases such as appearing for Asaram Bapu, defending instant triple talaq and lottery operators. Sibal had kicked a storm of sorts when he appeared for one of the Muslim petitioners in Ramjanambhoomi-Babri masjid case.

The Gujarat 2017 Assembly poll campaign was at its peak and both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were quick to capitalise on it wondering if the Congress endorsed Sibal’s plea to defer Ram Temple title dispute till the conclusion of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. There is no empirical evidence to substantiate if Sibal’s pronouncements prevented Gujarati urban voters from voting for the Congress in Surat, Ahmedabad, etc, but there is no dearth of state Congress leaders pointing an accusing finger at ‘Sibal the spoiler.’
In this lawyers’ free will versus party interest debate, Rahul needs to take a note of the grand old party’s stand taken in October 2010 when the Congress, leading the UPA regime at the centre then, had pulled out Abhishek Manu Singhvi from representing lottery operators in Kerala and had sternly asked him not to hold any legal briefings for them. Singhvi's appearance in Kerala lottery case had raised a storm as the State Congress unit had launched a campaign against promoters of lotteries from outside the State and senior Congress leaders had complained to the AICC over his action.

Some would say VYAPAM in Madhya Pradesh has more political repercussions than the lottery case in Kerala.

There is no sign of an AICC session that would ratify the AICC organisational polls. While it may be true that nobody would go to court or whether courts would entertain a plea pointing legal lacunae in the Congress organisational polls, fitness of things and propriety demand that the AICC general body gives its seal of approval.

The last AICC plenary was held in 2010 in Delhi. The terms of the current Congress Working Committee and all other bodies have expired way back. Ironically, Rahul draws strength from these defunct bodies who have committed a task of holding party polls. An early party session followed by Rahul’s own resolve to sit at 24, Akbar Road every Tuesday and Friday will go a long way in restoring the democratic semblance.

It is a different matter that Congress stay at its national party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road may, in itself, be short-lived as the Urban Development Ministry is contemplating eviction notice. The Congress, like the BJP and others, have been given land lease at Delhi’s Rouse Avenue.

Sonia Gandhi had laid the foundation stone of the new party office in December 2009, promising to move into the new premises in 2010. But someone discovered that the doors of the new party office would open on the road named after BJP ideologue Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay. The construction work has been in slow progress since then.

Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is @rasheedkidwai

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