“The saddest thing about betrayals is that it never comes from your enemies”. This popular quote sums up what the Congress must be feeling after Aditi Singh, former MLA from Raebareli, questioned the party’s stand over buses for migrants returning to Uttar Pradesh.
As Priyanka Gandhi Vadra stuck to an aggressive stand that 1,000 buses sent by her to ferry migrants from Rajasthan to Uttar Pradesh were not allowed to cross the UP border forcing them to be sent back, Aditi Singh tweeted to denounce the “politics” over the issue as a “cruel joke”.
In tweets posted in Hindi, Singh said that of the 1,000 vehicles arranged by the Congress, more than half were “fake”. She said 297 of them were “junk”, 98 were three-wheelers and ambulances, while 68 buses did not have valid papers. “What’s the need for such low politics at the time of a disaster?” she said.
The backlash from Congress was almost immediate as Singh had hurt the party where it hurts the most with her attack on UP state in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The party’s social media cell ran the hashtag #jaichandini, referring to Singh as the female version of 12th century Kannauj ruler Jaichand, who is infamous for betraying warrior king Prithviraj Chauhan.
Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Deb also issued a statement to say Singh was no longer part of the Mahila Congress. Soon, Singh was expelled from the Congress though her Twitter still says ‘INC’. Rahul Gandhi, too, unfollowed her on the microblogging site.
It was in the summer of 2016 that Aditi Singh was given a ticket from Raebareli for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, taking many by surprise as her father Akhilesh Singh had fallen out with the Congress. Of the five terms he had served as MLA from the star constituency, three were as a Congress leader. After he broke ties with the Congress, he never joined any party.
Akhilesh Singh was an old warhorse and it was tough to win from Raebareli without his blessings.
The foreign-returned and educated Aditi was seen as entitled and an outsider, but she worked harder to ensure that she lived up to her father's name. In fact, both Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi had campaigned for her in the assembly polls.
Aditi Singh’s split from the party was seen coming from a mile away. She defied Priyanka’s call for boycott of the assembly session and was served a showcause notice for attending the proceedings.
Singh had even hailed the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and called it a “historic move” that would help “in integrating J&K into the mainstream”.
Speaking to News18, Singh said she hoped for cordial ties with the Gandhis.
“I never had any hard feelings. We are all working for the country. I hope I never stoop to that level. I wish Priyanka all the love and luck… political equations change. At the end of the day, we are in the same political sphere," she said.
Singh went on to say that she joined the Congress at a time when she knew that the party was unlikely to come to power in the state or at the Centre. "I could have easily joined other parties like the Samajwadi Party or the BJP. But I chose the Congress,” she said, adding that it was the “right thing” to do.
Opening up on her defiance of the assembly boycott call, Singh said, “As a politician, you have to do the right thing. First and foremost, our constitutional duty is to the public. You cannot stop any legislator from going to the assembly. No one can stop me. I am elected and not selected.”
Singh is married to Angad Saini Singh, the youngest MLA in Punjab. He represents Nawashahar in the Punjab assembly. When Aditi was trolled on Twitter by Congress supporters, her husband too was attacked. She was asked why she didn’t ask her husband what Punjab had done for migrants. Her response was: "He's answerable to his constituents and I am to mine. It’s very unbecoming to drag family members into issues."
Speaking to News18, Angad Singh said, “It won’t affect my position at all. I am not supposed to agree with all she says and does. She is independent and has the right to have her own opinion, and I respect her."
What has irked the Congress the most is the fact that Aditi Singh comes from the bastion of the Gandhis. It was bad enough to have lost Amethi to Smriti Irani in the general elections, but in both Amethi and Raebareli, the Congress and the Gandhis seem to losing their grip.
After the loss of Amethi came the departure of Amethi ‘raja’ Sanjay Singh and wife Ameeta Singh, who joined the BJP. While they have yet to gain anything from the BJP in terms of position, their parting shot at the Gandhis was that the family is losing touch with reality.
In fact, a lacklustre campaigning by Sanjay and Ameeta Singh was seen as one of the reasons for Rahul’s defeat in Amethi. Before leaving, the couple had opined that there was little future for the Congress and that it had much to “redraw”, a sentiment echoed by Aditi Singh. “I guess they need to go back to the drawing board,” she said.
The Congress has apparently moved on. Rahul Gandhi won from Wayanad in Kerala. Priyanka refuses to give up in UP, hoping that the limp stand of the SP and BSP on the migrant crisis would help the Congress recover lost ground. But the party has a long road to recovery ahead.
The bigger question is why so many in the Congress are disgruntled and leaving? Many more are said to be heading towards the exit after Jyotiraditya Scindia and Aditi Singh. Are they all “opportunists” as the Congress alleges? But then, isn’t looking for greener pastures part of politics?
Both Rahul and Priyanka are now working at honing new bunch of leaders who are more loyal, willing to wait, and won’t betray. It’s easier said than done in a party which is still trying to sort the leadership issue.