Shehzad Poonawala letters to Rahul Gandhi
Here is the full text of the letters:
Dear Rahul Gandhi ji,
I have been a humble worker of Congress/Nehru ideology since 2007-08. Often as a volunteer i would come to Delhi after saving my
pocket money for months and work free at AICC HQ. Many leaders and journalists know about my struggles. Have my voluntary internship
letters too to prove this. Will be happy to show them if I get to meet you one on one.
In 2016, I was appointed as Maharashtra Congress Secretary after 8-9 years of pure, honest hard work. Till date, I have sought nothing from my party except to contribute for it: Using my resources in the public, legal fraternity and media and have held hundreds of programs and taken up several cases to strengthen the party's ideological fight. I made one mistake though: The mistake of seeking an opportunity to discuss some very pressing issues that led to our defeat in 2014—top at the list—the unabashed proliferation of dynasty politics and children of leaders getting promoted everywhere at the cost of merit.
Just a quick backdrop: In 2013, I was selected as the best spokesman by a professional set of observers , when training was done at 15GRG but everybody including Surjewala (son of a leader), Salman Soz (son of a leader) and many others made the cut at the behest of Maken (relative of a leader) but I did not. Still, I served the party without expectation or disappointment as is my dharma. I have fought cases like hate speech by Subramanian Swamy, for civil rights of minorities and to build Hindu Muslim unity. I was in touch with Kanishk Singh ji (from 2012-13) seeking your time but never ever got it.
But I am unable to still get time to address the most important structural issues plaguing the party for over years now. I understand these issues are difficult and God knows I have tried to address them even while I was defending the party with all my heart and soul. But to ask me to abandon those issues and to stay quiet on this issue affecting all Indians and important civil rights issues that affect minorities is NOT correct. This pressure today has crossed all limits. I have and will continue to raise them as an ordinary supporter of the ideology and I am offering my unconditional resignation from all offices till the time I am given an opportunity to raise the most important plaguing issue with my leadership directly. It may deemed an automatic resignation if my leadership is unable to make time or if I am coerced to staying silent on issues which matter to 99.999 percent Indians whose journey in politics begins without any father, godfather.
I will remain true to the ideology and hence I did not get poached unlike many seniors post 2014 for greener pastures. But 65 percent of India is below 35 years. I am too from that segment. If a young man cannot address a pressing problem that denies youngsters opportunity to participate in politics due to skewed electoral laws and party systems, within his own party, where does one go? Should Nehru's party worker not speak up when a leader of a communal party makes statements incompatible with the Constitution? Should I not bring to your attention the overwhelming number of dynasts who are given tickets, party positions and patronage? Should I be prevented from fighting that fight? If yes, please consider my resignation from all offices of the party. If not, I will be happy to meet you and elaborate further sir.
I understand a false campaign of misinformation and calumny will be launched against my family and me by those who seek to pull me down: All kinds of rumours will be planted and old baseless skeletons will be removed but I know that nobody said anything until now (2017 after a year and half of my appointment in Maharashtra Congress) and my letter may make them speak today about non-issues. I will not be swayed from my mission.
I await (as I have done always) for your positive response. If you choose not to meet me that is fine too. My respect for Nehru ji and all our leaders remains intact.
Best wishes for Gujarat,
Dear Rahul ji,
I am saddened that there has been no response to my letter to you dated 15 November, 2017 in which I had requested your valuable time to discuss issues relating to civil rights (including minority rights for certain communities like Hindus and Kashmiri Pandits in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir) and the most important issue of dynasty and fair opportunity to non-dynasts within the party. In the past few days you have met several leaders and activists but it seems that there is little interest in meeting an active, state level, self-made functionary who has concrete solutions to curb dynasty politics in our party. I have been seeking time from your office for a long time in this regard. Anyhow, as a disciplined soldier of the party I will use this medium to communicate some important points with regard to the impending election of the Congress president and dynasty culture within the party.
Sir, 65 percent of India is below the age of 35 and it is this section of voters who played a decisive role in the 2014 election. Takes no rocket science to figure that armed with social media (Whatsapp, Facebook and twitter) enabled smartphones, they will play a bigger role in the 2019 election. Apart from jobs, the state of the economy, Young India has and will also vote for a personality that reflects it's aspirational and identity quotient. That it voted in 2014 with vengeance for a man (who projected himself as a "chaiwala" and a political outsider) especially after that classist jibe made by Mani Shankar Aiyyar is an indicator of the revulsion most people have, especially in this age group, for dynastic privilege, especially in the new politics of a transforming India. But has our party been able to fully understand this?
Rahul Gandhi ji, you joined Congress party in 2004 and immediately got the opportunity to contest the Lok Sabha polls from your family bastion of Amethi. You were then elevated to the position of general secretary while Sonia Maharashtra unit secretary Gandhi was the Congress president. You took charge of the youth wings of the party namely IYC and NSUI and promised to revolutionise it. You led the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election campaign, holding over 150 rallies, in which the Congress finished in last place. (In 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, despite your best efforts, the Congress party deteriorated even further and held on to the fourth place in a state which gave birth to Nehru, Congress' tallest leader, this time with lesser dignity and pride). In 2013, you were selected as the Congress vice-president or the de facto number two in the party and to most of us it was clear that you were calling all the shots in the run up to the 2014 elections, where we were reduced to an all-time low of 44 seats.
Today, in a 19 day well-choreographed and orchestrated exercise, beginning on December 1, you will be elevated to the position of the president of the Congress party. Some folks are waiting until the last date of nominations (4 December) and some till counting day (19 December) to arrive at a forgone conclusion about who will be crowned the next president! My friend Rajiv Tyagi, an official spokesperson of Congress has declared, presumably as part of the party line on national television, that a "Gandhi" would be the president of the Congress not for ten/twenty years but for the next fifty years!
The party has not issued a clarification on this until now, thus confirming that they agree with Tyagi's zealous sycophancy and also that the forthcoming election is essentially a stage managed exercise. Do you agree with Rajiv Tyagi? Is the post of president directly or indirectly reserved for "Gandhis"? Illusions like these, where loyalist delegates (members who get to choose and vote between you and well no one ), handpicked and appointed essentially at behest of loyalist state presidents , who in turn were handpicked by the Congress president, who also handpicked the vice-president in 2013 and the ultra-loyal members of the Congress Working Committee (highest decision making body in the party) which rubber stamps every decision taken by the Congress president and you and conveniently times the rather elaborate process, to make it look and feel like a real election, are so sophisticated that even if one was to contest against you, it would be the equivalent of vying for a vote from a mother who is choosing between her own less talented son and the more talented, meritorious outsider.
The choice of the winner would be obvious: It is no contest when the system is rigged. Is this just how transparent, free and fair this December election or any election in the Congress will be, by the virtue of which even the likes of a Tyagi can predict its outcome for the next fifty years? Do let me know Rahul ji. Thank God in all likelihood you will be unanimously (s)elected because most Congress leaders like me know how vain it is to even try to contest. A worker like me would have considered filing a nomination and contesting if you are willing to take a few things on with the candidness.
To make this election fair you must take the following steps:
1) Firstly, 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 get to start off with an MP seat in 2004 itself, general secretaryship in 2007 and then graduate to vice-president of the national unit while his mother was the president? 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 vice-president's 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 2 in the party)?
2) 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?
3) 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 than your surname? If yes, let's have that contest. I am ready.
4) You failed to deliver on the promise that IYC, NSUI won't end up electing children of netas (those who can spend huge sums to became state presidents, such as the son of Patangarao Kadam in Maharashtra or the son of Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh become state presidents) 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. So if I have a party ticket or post, my brother, sister, mother, brother-in-law, cannot be eligible for a ticket or post. We are not some family business, are we?
I doubt you will be open to any of these suggestions. If you are, I would be happy to contest this election against you in a fair system.
Rahul ji, during the 2002 Gujarat riots while I was in school, I read in my text books about Nehru, Azad and Gandhi and it was natural for folks like me to fall in love with the Congress ideology. It has a glorious history of over 100 years, it led the freedom struggle and had a solid track record towards building India since Independence. When you took over in 2007, I did not like your direct placement. Is it a private limited company or some Bollywood "khan-dan" I asked myself.
I heard you speak and articulate your plans to "change the system". I was willing to give my first love time: The Congress time to evolve into the party a million nobodies like me truly desired. One where merit and talent counts more than the feudal systems of dynastic political patronage and sycophantic loyalty. It has been ten years since you made those promises but are yet to deliver on those. The more things change the more they remain the same! Dynasts get the overwhelming share of election tickets and nominations to posts in the party: From Ajay Maken to Jyotiraditya Scindia, from Gaurav Gogoi to Sushmita Dev, dynasts enjoy his confidence more than non-dynasts, the power and decision making authority is confined to this elite club.
Farcical and cosmetic exercises take place but nothing changes substantially. I again ask you: Will you bring in a rule that only one ticket or post will be given in every family including your own?
Millions of non-dynastic, progressive, secular liberals like me pin their hopes on Congress. Whether we win or lose Gujarat, if we remain the party that pays more attention to "who you are" than "what you can deliver", it gives more credence to one's legacy and last name than one's merit and hard work, the alternative we provide will be no better than those we oppose. In BJP, you get preference if you belong to the "Sangh Parivar". In Congress, you get preference if you belong to "some parivar".
Rahul ji, I want you to be our party president but not only because you are "Gandhi". Let your leadership be tested through a real election. Let the party be more open to merit and talent than it is to dynasty. Nobody will have the courage to tell you this. Nobody will have the courage to show you the mirror. They are sychophants. To please you they will attack my family and me; malign my work and me and plant misinformation and stories against me (wait and watch) which did not exist till yesterday. I am ready for this slander.
Notwithstanding all the odds and bad times (Congress getting reduced to mere 44 seats), I have not gone to greener pastures despite the various offers and continued to work without any vacation for the party selflessly and without any expectations from 2008-09. But if you think talking about dynasty is against the principles of Mahatma Gandhi's Congress then by all means Rahul Gandhi's Congress can surely sack me or throw me out. Unlike Hemanta Biswa Sarma, I will serve the party and continue to voice my views against parivarwaad and will form and lead an anti-dynasty front within the party. I hope rather than shift the blame on somebody else you can take a stand on issues I have mentioned in my letter. Let us end dynasty politics now before it ends our party.
Best wishes for Gujarat elections. I am working as hard as I can to ensure BJP is defeated.
Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee