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Family Still Comes First

Family Still Comes First

Author: Amitabh Srivastava
Publication: India Today
Date: July 11, 2011
URL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/story/rahul-gandhi-fails-his-promise-to-rid-youth-congress-of-family-patronage-money/1/143357.html

Introduction: rahul promised to rid to youth congress of family, patronage and money. He hasn't delivered on it.

When Anand Singh Rawat, son of Congress MP from Haridwar and Union Minister of State of Labour and Employment Harish Rawat, was elected president of the Uttarakhand unit of the Youth Congress (YC) on May 16 this year, it was just another instance of the organisation mentored by Rahul Gandhi failing to practice what he preaches.

Though Rahul has made no secret of his dream of eliminating "family, patronage and money" from the Congress's youth wing ever since he took charge in September 2007, from the very first YC election under his charge in Punjab in December 2008, candidates with famous relatives or the blessings of top leaders have kept bagging positions. In fact, of the 17 states/units where YC has so far elected office-bearers, eight have relatives of Congress leaders manning various posts. In the remaining nine YC units, office-bearers in five have the clear backing of senior leaders.

Other than Rawat, among the others who made the most of their family name is late chief minister Beant Singh's grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu, currently YC president in Punjab. Bittu is also said to have the backing of former chief minister Amarinder Singh.
In West Bengal, Mausam Benazir Noor, the Congress MP from Malda North and niece of late Union minister A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, is the YC chief. Similarly, Chiranjeev Rao, son of Haryana Finance Minister Ajay Singh Yadav, is the president of the YC in Haryana. Even YC national president Rajeev Satav has family connections in the Congress. He is the son of former Maharashtra minister Rajni Satav.

In addition to these better known cases, Rajasthan YC has as many as three general secretaries and a vice president from political families. Similarly, in the Jharkhand YC, the vice president and a general secretary are sons of senior state Congress leaders whereas Deepika Pandey Singh, the secretary of the Indian Youth Congress National Committee, is daughter of Jharkhand Congress leader Pratibha Pandey.

A section of Youth Congress activists finds it inevitable that family connections are used. "The crown prince of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, is tipped to be prime minister, following in the footsteps of his father, grandmother and great grandfather. He just cannot stop other children of netas from getting inspired," says a YC leader.

In YC units where family lineage hasn't played a role in electing office-bearers, political patronage has. Madhya Pradesh YC President Priyavrat Singh is a known supporter of Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh while Jharkhand YC President Manas Sinha is said to have the blessings of Union Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay.

The list of political appointees appears endless with senior Congress leaders ensuring that family members or loyalists hog plum posts in the YC across the country. While it is difficult to wish away a system that inherently encourages such patronage, Team Rahul hasn't succeeded in preventing dynastic control over the youth wing.

Speaking to India Today, Satav, however, insisted that the YC drew 95 per cent of its cadre from non-political families.

A section of YC activists blames the Electoral College model for the continuance of patronage in the youth wing. They allege that college delegates, who are members of YC bodies set up in every Assembly constituency to elect the president, vice president and general secretary, are 'sponsored'.

"These delegates need to pay a substantial sum as nomination fee. Since this works out to a tidy sum for all delegates, an aspiring office-bearer with deep pockets sponsors them- thereby allowing money power to have a role in the elections," said a YC member who did not want his identity revealed.

The YC under Rahul has also struggled to steer clear of youth with questionable credentials. According to the Youth Congress website, conditional membership is offered to those with "good standing" and no past conviction. Though many YC members have not been convicted, their past record may not pass the "good standing" test. In December 2010, Bihar YC leader Mayank Kumar alias Munna was arrested in connection with the murder of his friend Rohit. Another YC leader was arrested under the Arms Act in Sitamarhi. Bihar YC vice president Kumar Ashish- said to be backed by a former Union minister -was arrested in 2005 for leaking the mathematics paper of the intermediate examination. Questions have been raised over the credentials of YC leaders in other states as well.

So the Youth Congress may be back in the thick of action, but is still lacking in substance. The Assembly election results in Tamil Nadu and earlier in Bihar-two states where Rahul spent considerable time- show nothing much has changed on the ground.

Though Rahul's recruitment drive saw YC membership swell to 12.92 lakh in Tamil Nadu, yet Congress could win only five seats with all the handpicked YC nominees biting the dust. In Bihar, where the YC membership is pegged at 3.48 lakh, the Congress could win just four seats in the Assembly. The Congress bagged a little over 24.30 lakh votes, which is just 8.38 per cent of the votes polled. This means each YC worker could not even mobilise seven votes for the party.

It gets worse in Tamil Nadu where the Congress could poll only 34,26,432 votes, or 9.3 per cent of the total votes polled. Though Congress contested only 63 seats, it still boils down to the party not managing to muster even three votes to each of the 12.92 lakh YC members enrolled.

Clearly, Rahul may have generated a buzz everywhere, but the Congress machinery has failed to translate Generation Next's eagerness into a solid support base. Satav, however, brushes aside suggestions that YC cadres played no role in state elections. "11 of the 12 YC activists who contested from Assam won. YC leaders have done very well in Kerala and West Bengal too," he says.

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