NEW DELHI: Just days ahead of Rahul Gandhi's elevation as Congress president in an internal election that no one is expected to contest, a party leader has gone public with all-out criticism of what he calls a "rigged" and sham exercise.
Making it clear that he would have liked to run for the top post, Maharashtra Congress Secretary Shehzad Poonawalla on Wednesday lashed out at the process to elect the party chief and said Rahul Gandhi must first resign as vice president to lose the "unfair advantage" he has over other possible candidates.
In a direct challenge to Rahul Gandhi, Mr Poonawalla said, "Will he be ready for a televised debate where we both as contestants can have a debate on what is our vision for the Congress party? We can be judged on merit, not on the surname."
Mr Poonawalla's comments have been denounced by his brother Tehseen Poonawalla, also a Congress leader. "It is totally unacceptable to me and my family...he should have presented whatever issues he had in the party forum...We now have nothing to do with him," he said today.
Congress leader Shehzad Poonawalla dared Rahul Gandhi to debate saying, "let's have contest"
The stunning outburst hits the Congress at a time it is preparing for Rahul Gandhi's nomination after the organizational election is notified tomorrow. The party's delegates from states are to file nomination papers proposing his name. By December 5, when the nominations are known, his takeover of the top post from his mother Sonia Gandhi is likely to be official.
"I will contest if Rahul Gandhiji agrees to first have genuinely-elected delegates and not handpicked delegates. Second, he must give up his post because he has an unfair advantage by being the Vice President. He has been selected and not elected as VP. He will leave his post, I will leave my post... Then we can contest...I want him to accept that our party must have a rule of one family-one ticket," Mr Poonawalla told news agency IANS.
In his letter to Rahul Gandhi, Mr Poonawalla has not held back on unpleasant questions revolving around his "merit vs surname" theme.
"...a common party worker like me joined the party in 2008-09. I spent time, energy and money working voluntarily for the party at all levels and finally got elevated after eight years to the position of a Secretary in a state unit in 2016. But how and why (other than your surname) did you in the same time span start off with an MP seat in 2004 itself, get general secretaryship in 2007 and then graduate to vice presidentship of the national unit while your mother was the President?" he writes.
"Did you win us more elections, were you genuinely elected to these posts, did you give better speeches than other leaders? You must therefore resign from the VP post and contest as an ordinary member for the election of the president. How can it be a fair contest if a common worker has to contest against the VP (who was selected and not elected as the VP or the number two in the party)?" he says.
"Since the delegate system is completely rigged and manipulated, for a fair fight for the presidentship, will you allow real delegates to get appointed and vote rather than a bunch of handpicked 'yes' men? If not, will you at least face your rival in a televised debate to see who articulates a better vision for the Congress party and India? Will you allow yourself to be judged on merit rather than your surname? If yes, let's have that contest. I am ready."
Mr Poonawalla also says: "You failed to deliver on the promise that IYC (Indian Youth Congress), NSUI (Congress's student wing) won't end up electing children of 'netas'. Will you at least now curb the innumerable dynasts who are given tickets and posts in the party by implementing the rule - one ticket/post to only one member in any family?-ndtv