Prior to Jyotiraditya’s exit from the grand old party, the period between 2013 and 2019 saw many Congress leaders leaving the party. In one particularly high-profile case, Jyotiraditya was himself responsible for the exit of Priyanka Chaturvedi, who was a young and suave Congress spokesperson and is currently a Rajya Sabha member from the Shiv Sena.
Jyotiraditya’s ‘inapt’ handling of the Chaturvedi issue and his own subsequent move to leave the Congress made some senior party leaders bitter on grounds of depriving the party from a ‘talented’ Chaturvedi.
On 20 April 2019, Chaturvedi had stunned Congress leaders and virtually everyone in political circles when Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray announced her induction as the Sena ‘getting a new sister’.
Chaturvedi, who is from Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, and lives in Mumbai, had a rather meteoric rise in the grand old party. She had become visible in 2010 when she attended the Indian School of Business’s 10,000 Women Entrepreneurs Certificate programme, a global initiative supported by the Goldman Sachs Foundation for women entrepreneurs. By 2012, the 1979-born Chaturvedi was the general secretary of the Mumbai north-west wing of the Indian Youth Congress.
Gurudas Kamat, a veteran and respectable Congress leader who was himself the Indian Youth Congress chief during the Rajiv Gandhi era, was said to have spotted her talent and remained her mentor till he was alive. The period between 2012 and 2014 was the most challenging for the Congress when Chaturvedi took a stand in television news debates and on social media, defending Sonia, Rahul and the party in the most spirited manner.
From May 2014 to April 2019, Chaturvedi became one of the most visible faces of the party on TV and social media.
At a time when Priyanka appeared as formidable and dependable as Rahul Dravid in Team India, her defection eight days before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Mumbai shocked everyone, including Jyotiraditya who was AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh West.
A closer scrutiny showed that Jyotiraditya was the prime cause why Chaturvedi left the party. She was already unhappy over the party’s refusal to give her a ticket from Mumbai North, where actress Urmila Matondkar was fielded. Chaturvedi was in Mathura in September 2018 to hold a media briefing on Rafale, as per Rahul’s directive to hold press conferences across the nation on the deal. During her media interaction in Mathura, some local Congress leaders had misbehaved with her, allegedly at the behest of a local party leader who viewed her as some kind of a threat as Chaturvedi had deep roots in Mathura.
In fact, before the 2019 parliamentary polls were announced, there was a buzz that Chaturvedi might be fielded to take on BJP MP and actress Hema Malini. The alleged misbehaviour, a mix of physical and verbal abuse, was so ugly that Chaturvedi left the scheduled press conference in a huff but her tormentors followed her to a room where she had sought refuge.
The matter was taken up with the higher-ups in the party. Jyotiraditya, as AICC general secretary in charge of western Uttar Pradesh, was directly responsible for protecting the dignity of a woman leader of the party. It was said that when Chaturvedi sought Rahul’s intervention, Rahul was both sympathetic and in a mood to take action against the culprits. He reportedly did talk to Jyotiraditya, urging him to act swiftly.
According to newspaper reports then, the people allegedly involved in the Mathura incident were Ashok Chakleshwar, Umesh Pandit, Pratap Singh, Abdul Jabbar, Girdhari Lal Pathak, Bhuri Singh Jayas, Pravin Thakur and Yatindra Mukadam. Jyotiraditya did act against them, suspending and serving show-cause notices to all eight. But within days, a volte-face followed. On 15 April , all of them were reinstated after being given a strict warning. The leaders gave a written apology.
Sources close to Jyotiraditya said the eight were reinstated on the recommendation of Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Raj Babbar, after they expressed regret and promised not to misbehave in the future.
Chaturvedi was outraged. Describing them as ‘lumpen goons’, she wrote on her Twitter handle, ‘Deeply saddened that lumpen goons get preference in @incindia over those who have given their sweat and blood. Having faced brickbats and abuse across board (sic) for the party but yet those who threatened me within the party getting away with not even a rap on their knuckles is unfortunate.’
At this stage, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sonia tried to intervene but Jyotiraditya and Raj Babbar reportedly cited ‘delicate’ political equations in Mathura, while declining to reverse the order to reinstate the culprits. The Gandhis wished Chaturvedi good luck even as she left the Congress.
A few months later, actress Matondkar, who had lost from Mumbai North, also left the Congress, levelling similar charges of inaction. Matondkar had accused local party leaders, Sandesh Kondvilkar and Bhushan Patil, close associates of Sanjay Nirupam, a former Mumbai Congress president, of misbehaving with her, but no action was taken. Jyotiraditya, however, had no active role to play in the episode.
The abrupt exit of Chaturvedi, Matondkar and many others showed how the Congress central leadership (read the Gandhis) handled party affairs, allowing managers such as Jyotiraditya and Nirupam to let a sense of despondency set in within the ranks.
Published with permission of Roli Books from ‘The House of Scindias: A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue’ by Rasheed Kidwai. Order your copy here.
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