Priyanka’s new aide, 36-year-old Kanishka Singh, son of former foreign secretary S K Singh was backroom boy of Rahul Gandhi since 2003, preparing notes, planning political strategy at 12 Tughlaq Lane. Previously an investment banker, in Congress circles he was nicknamed ‘gate-keeper’ of Rahul. The Wharton-educated humble Kanishka was, however, replaced by Alankar Sawai, soon after electoral debacle for fixing appointments.
Concerned at the dwindling political fortunes and apparently the failure of vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s efforts to revive the party after successive debacles in elections, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, over past few months, has been quietly augmenting the office of her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (43), speculating a greater political role for her in near future. Even though officially the Congress line is that charming Mrs Vadra was free to choose her political role, shifting of key aides from Rahul’s 12 Tughlak Lane office-cum-residence to Priyanka’s at 35 Lodhi Estate has created a buzz within the party circles.The first to be shifted to aid Priyanka was Rahul’s Man Friday Kanishka Singh, who now sits at 35, Lodhi Estate, looking after her political schedule as well as key appointments. Quite recently a Rajasthan civil service officer, Dhiraj Srivastava, who was private secretary of Sonia Gandhi and later Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at the National Advisory Council (NAC) was also inducted in Priyanka’s team. The office and staff of Preeti Sahay, who has been working with Priyanka over past few years as political advisor, helping her plan her visits to Rai Bareilly and Amethi, has also been amplified. She has now been re-positioned to head a separate communication department for Priyanka. This office is fourth in line now engaged in refurbishing the party’s image. Others are the Communication department at party headquarters at Akbar Road, Rahul Gandhi’s office at Tughlaq Road and a war room at Gurdwara Rakabgun.A senior Congress leader, on condition of anonymity, told dna that they had got a whiff that Congress president was increasingly withdrawing from her responsibilities owing to ill-health. He said that along with Mrs Gandhi, most of the Congress leaders and workers feel that Rahul Gandhi was lacking charisma and appeal to confront the BJP mascot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Congress party has a deep-rooted cadre base and a vast unmatched political machinery. We just need a leader to revive the cadre spirits and to instill confidence in them. In the past also, they were demoralised till Mrs Gandhi brought life in them, when she took over in 1998,” he said.Priyanka’s new aide, 36-year-old Kanishka Singh, son of former foreign secretary S K Singh was backroom boy of Rahul Gandhi since 2003, preparing notes, planning political strategy at 12 Tughlaq Lane. Previously an investment banker, in Congress circles he was nicknamed ‘gate-keeper’ of Rahul. The Wharton-educated humble Kanishka was, however, replaced by Alankar Sawai, soon after electoral debacle for fixing appointments.Alankar, who also comes from finance background, having worked with the ICICI Bank, now sits in party meetings to take down notes and prepare the briefs for Rahul and then interact with those making useful suggestions.Alankar comes from a financial background. He was earlier in the credit card department of the ICICI Bank. He has been also taking care of the social media on behalf of Rahul and preparing background papers. Sources in Rahul’s office sought to explain the changes saying nobody has been dropped as such except for redistribution of the responsibilities and deployment of new faces from time to time.Just a few days back, Priyanka targeted her own party leaders, saying they were not aware of the expectations of the masses. “We don’t try to know what people expect from us. What can we do if we don’t understand their needs? Now is the time for us to mix with the masses and struggle for them. Let me know if there is any shortcoming in me. Let the party realise if it is lacking somewhere,” she said at a meeting of Congress leaders in Rae Bareli. She was touring the constituency of her mother and party president Sonia Gandhi. Incidentally, this was also Priyanka’s first visit after the Congress’ debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Even, though Priyanka has stayed away from active politics so far, inner circles in the party confide that the original plan was that she will replace her mother in parliament and in the party, in case the UPA had scripted victory in Lok Sabha polls. In that case Rahul would have focused on the government and Priyanka was supposed to devote herself for the party to sew a perfect combination. But the worst ever defeat not only sent the plans haywire, but also forced Mrs Gandhi to continue with her tiring schedules despite her ailing health.Priyanka told party leaders to utilise time in getting closer to people, since they are no more in power. She also told them to make weaknesses of the Narendra Modi government an issue of debate, pointing out that the new land ordinance promulgated by the Centre should be opposed tooth and nail. “It is not in favour of the peasants. The government may acquire land of farmers without their consent. I am gearing up to fight for them. But I also want you to do it on a larger scale,” she said.Interestingly, she has asked partymen to use social media to make people aware of welfare programmes introduced by the erstwhile UPA government. Those who attended the programme said, they get enough hints that she is preparing for a bigger role. Priyanka also asked the party’s women leaders to reach out if an ordinary citizen was harassed by goons or the police. “She asked us to protest in front of police stations in such cases.When we told her that the police were insensitive to people’s problems, she said she would personally reach the spot to participate in the protest if the cops didn’t listen to us,” said a woman leader, who attended her meeting.Among the plans drawn up at the meeting were to organise protests in February at the tehsils on issues like shortage of fertilizer, power and water, to be followed up with marches at the district headquarters in March. In May, party plans nationwide protests to demand raising the issue of support price of wheat. And if these programmes succeed in drawing attention of people, in June, protests will be organised against the “unfulfilled promises” of Modi government. Priyanka’s Plans to take on Modi* To recreate Indira Gandhi aura; take to streets like Indira after 1977 poll debacle* Protests in February at the tehsils on issues like shortage of fertilizer, power and water* Cadre marches at the district headquarters in March* Nationwide protests in May demanding support price for wheat* In June, protests against Modi’s “unfulfilled promises”