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Prime Minister Narendra Modi cites Maharashtra Congress secretary Shehzad Poonawalla’s allegation of election being rigged, slams Congress’ dynasty politics

Amid allegations by a party worker that the process of his imminent elevation is rigged, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, on Monday, filed his nomination for the party’s president’s post. In the absence of any other contender, the Nehru-Gandhi scion is expected to be declared Congress president on Wednesday, once the deadline for scrutiny of nomination papers is completed. He will replace his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who has been the Congress president 19 years – the longest serving chief of the Grand Old Party.

It is no secret that the outcome of the Congress’ presidential polls was pre-determined. Rahul was the party’s heir-apparent as early as in 2004 when he took the political plunge and was inducted into the party by his mother and incumbent party chief Sonia Gandhi as the general secretary. However, the election has attracted some controversy following allegations that the process was rigged.

Shehzad Poonawalla, a Secretary with the Maharashtra unit of the Congress who had burst onto the national media scene a few years ago – first as a Congress activist and then as a self-anointed party spokesperson – had last week alleged that Rahul Gandhi was being ‘selected and not elected’ as the party chief.

Shehzad is the younger brother of Tehseen Poonawalla, a Congress activist and known face in television debates. He had leveled a series of allegations against the Congress party and Rahul and challenged the Nehru-Gandhi scion to hold a free and fair election for the party chief’s post – in which Shehzad wished to challenge Rahul. What made Shehzad’s outburst against Rahul – who he said was being elevated only by the virtue of his Nehru-Gandhi lineage – even more piquant was that Tehseen is married to a cousin of Robert Vadra – the husband of Priyanka Gandhi and brother-in-law of Rahul. Tehseen was quick to “disown” Shehzad, declaring that his family had severed all ties with the younger Poonawalla and that he was unaware of the motivations behind the outburst.

Shehzad’s claim of Rahul being elevated as Congress president only because he had a ‘Gandhi’ surname was stating the obvious. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi jumped at the chance of using the allegation against Rahul while campaigning for the Gujarat assembly polls. On Saturday, Modi raked up the allegations leveled by Shehzad while he addressed poll rallies in his home state and used them as examples of the Congress’ ‘dynastic politics’.

Nevertheless, on Monday morning, Rahul went ahead and filed his nomination for the party chief’s post. Prior to heading to the Congress headquarters on 24, Akbar Road for filing his nomination, the Nehru-Gandhi scion called on former President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to seek their blessings.

Dr Singh, along with a whole array of senior party leaders – Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, and others – was present at the AICC headquarters when Rahul filed his nomination. Over 70 sets of nomination papers, supporting Rahul’s election to the party’s top post, were also submitted by senior leaders of the party and chief ministers of the few Congress-ruled states to Mullappally Ramachandran, the Returning Officer for the organisational election.

The Congress party also incessantly tweeted videos by senior party leaders congratulating Rahul Gandhi for the “historic” moment and extolling his leadership qualities.

Rahul’s imminent coronation as Congress president – about four years after he was made the party vice president in January 2013 – will no doubt prove to be the proverbial ‘crown of thorns’.

Rahul will take over as party president at a time when the Congress has been reduced to just 45 seats in Lok Sabha – its lowest tally ever – and has been ousted from power in a majority of Indian States. Even when Sonia took over the party’s leadership amid the Congress’ dwindling popularity, the party had not faced such an erosion of support. Ironically, over the years, the Congress’ inability of reviving and building its electoral base has been blamed on the poor leadership of Rahul Gandhi, who since becoming party vice president in 2013, had begun to take control of party’s decision-making process in the wake of his mother’s deteriorating health.

Now, amid a perception that Rahul’s performance and popularity have both improved, he is preparing to take the hot seat. It remains to be seen if the euphoria will turn into gloom once the results for the Gujarat and Himachal Assembly polls are declared on December 18.

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