MBAs, Former SPG Staffers, Ex-Leftists, Bankers – Meet Rahul Gandhi’s Congress “coterie”

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New Delhi: Senior Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad, who quit the party on Friday, accused what he called a “coterie of inexperienced sycophants”, referring to those close to the Gandhis. Azad alleged that this coterie, made up of “PAs and security agents”, made all the decisions within the party.

Two days before Azad sent his scathing resignation letter to Congresswoman Sonia Gandhi, another member of Congress said something similar as he handed in his papers.

Jaiveer Shergill, one of the party’s national spokespersons, who resigned on Wednesday, said in an interview with ThePrint after his resignation that the party was led by “PAs and OSDs and a few select leaders”. Shergill also said he was unable to get a date with the three Gandhis despite trying for over a year.

Azad and Shergill are not the first leaders leaving the party to have spoken of this “coterie”. Other congressional leaders, some privately and some not, have also accepted the decision-making powers available to this “coterie.” They also talked about how the “coterie” restricts access to the three Gandhis.

But who forms this “coterie”? ThePrint takes a look.


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Ko Byju

When Azad spoke of “security guards”, he was most likely referring to KB Byju, a former member of Rahul Gandhi’s Special Protection Group (SPG), congressional officials told ThePrint.

Byju became a member of Rahul’s team when the latter became the party’s general secretary in 2007. However, he is not an official member of Congress. In fact, Byju’s association with Rahul dates back to 1991 when he was first assigned as the latter’s security detail, party sources said.

They added that Byju is responsible for all of Rahul Gandhi’s trips, movements and security arrangements, making him a trusted lieutenant of the former party chairman.

Alankar Sawai

A former head of ICICI bank, Alankar Sawai is a member of Rahul Gandhi’s personal staff and manages his day-to-day commitments. He was also in charge of Gandhi’s social media accounts for some time. Even though Gandhi’s team has grown since Sawai’s arrival, he still remains the “chief of staff”, according to party sources.

In congressional circles, he is known for restricting access to Rahul Gandhi. He is also Rahul’s media liaison. Gandhi’s interactions with the media, except for occasional press conferences, are largely restricted. Sawai usually accompanies Rahul on all his political trips.

Sandep Singh

What Sawai is to Rahul, Sandeep Singh is to Priyanka Gandhi. According to the story, Singh, a former student activist of AISA (All India Students’ Association) at JNU, raised black flags for Manmohan Singh when the former prime minister visited the university campus. He then worked with CPI(ML) before beginning to work with Congress.

Singh, in fact, worked with Rahul Gandhi before joining Priyanka’s team in 2018 when she took over the post of Party General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh. He leads Priyanka’s team and advises her on political matters.

Singh also reportedly played a key role in ticket distribution and party strategy in the UP elections earlier this year. Some UP Congress leaders reportedly claimed they needed to get into Singh’s good books to get tickets for themselves, and that he was restricting access to Priyanka Gandhi.

Kanishka Singh

Congressional sources describe Kanisha Singh as “a friend” of Rahul Gandhi. He began his political career in 2003 after quitting his job with New York investment banking firm Lazard Freres & Co. Kanishka holds an MBA from Wharton Business School.

In his early days in Congress at the time, Kanishka worked with Sheila Dikshit. He was later scouted by the Gandhis after writing an article in 2004, in which he compared Sonia Gandhi to John Kerry and predicted victories for both.

He has been working with the family, especially Rahul, since the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Sources say he handles “critical matters” for management, particularly those relating to law, security and the like.

sachin rao

Coming from a similar background to Kanishka, Sachin Rao holds an MBA in Business Strategy and International Business from Michigan Business School. Rao is currently in charge of staff training and INC Sandesh. He previously led the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and the NSUI (National Union of Students of India).

In 2007, when Rahul took over as AICC Secretary General, he, together with Rao, worked to rejuvenate the IYC and NSUI. It was then considered as the first mission of the new general secretary in the party.

Sources say that holding internal elections for the two bodies, which first took place between 2007 and 2009 under Rahul’s tenure, was Rao’s idea. Rao is also a member of the Congressional Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body.

K Raju

An IAS officer from 1981, K. Raju started working with Congress in 2009. He was brought into the fold of Congress by YS Rajasekhara Reddy. At present, he is part of Rahul Gandhi’s team and deals with matters related to minority and caste policy, social welfare, etc.

Praveen Chakravarty

Chakravarty is currently the Chairman of the Data and Analytics Wing of Congress and an important sounding board for Rahul Gandhi in all matters related to economic policies. The Chakravarty team undertakes surveys and data-driven technology initiatives for the party.

Most recently, he spearheaded the Congressional Digital Membership Campaign. A Wharton MBA, Chakravarty, worked with former Union Minister P. Chidambaram on the much-publicized NYAY minimum wage guarantee scheme that Rahul promised and projected as the Congress party’s panacea to poverty and poverty. unemployment ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, NYAY failed to cut the ice with the electorate.


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The “privileged few” leaders

Now, this group of “coterie” leaders has been largely fluid with some supporters and others moving in and out.

However, the two most regular members have been KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala. While Venugopal is the general secretary in charge of the organization, Surjewala was, until recently, in charge of communications and the state of Karnataka. Currently, he is only the General Secretary in charge of Karnataka, after his party colleague, Jairam Ramesh, took over as head of the communications department in June this year.

Appointed General Secretary in charge of Karnataka in 2017 after Rahul Gandhi took over as President, Venugopal was appointed to his current post in 2019. A former Lok Sabha MP from Kerala, Venugopal now represents the party in Rajya Sabha.

Randeep Surjewala was appointed secretary general in 2017 and head of its media department two years prior in 2015. However, his tenure as head of the department was fraught with criticism as many accused him of alienating the media national while being inaccessible. .

In electoral politics, Surjewala has lost the last two elections he contested in his home state of Haryana. He is currently a member of the Rajya Sabha of Rajasthan.

Apart from this, another leader who appreciates Rahul Gandhi’s closeness, in terms of political advice, is Manickam Tagore. MP for Lok Sabha from Tamil Nadu, Tagore is currently secretary in charge of Telangana. Tagore was instrumental in installing former TDP leader and ABVP activist Revanth Reddy as the state chairman of the Telangana Congress.

(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)


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