New Delhi: History is never lost, especially political history. It comes back to life again and again as the present unfolds to unveil the future. The history of Congress as a party, as a personal fief of the Gandhi-Nehru clan, as the playfield of court intrigues, surely reminds of ‘House of Cards’ or ‘Game of Thrones’, depending on ones’ period preference.

As the erudite Shashi Tharoor has muddied the waters of Congress’ proposed presidential elections — speculation is rife that he wants to throw his name in the heady mix—the name of Sitaram Kesri rebounds into currency. He was the last non-Gandhi president of the Congress, having succeeded another Sonia-baiter former PM PV Narasimha Rao.

While there was no love lost between Sonia Gandhi and Rao, so much so, that he was not given pride of place to be cremated in Delhi, his dead body not even allowed inside Congress headquarters, Kesari was another thorn by the side of Sonia Gandhi, which she removed so unceremoniously that, it seemed, she was trying to prove a point, make an example.

However so might Sonia loyalist try to peddle the illusion of Congress being a democratic set up, elections to the post of president have, rather, remained a set-up.

Nehru-Gandhi family members have been at the helm of the Congress for a record length of time, Sonia Gandhi holding the record of being the longest-serving party chief.

‘Thrown out of office, to the footpath’

Kesari, a veteran Gandhian and freedom fighter, was literally thrown on the road by Sonia loyalists after a coup to install her at the helm after the 12th Lok Sabha elections.

Notwithstanding over 130 public rallies by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress was reduced to 142 seats, losing its traditional bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh too.

Stalwarts such as Arjun Singh and the likes of Narayan Datt Tiwari too were worsted. A faction within Congress crowned Kesri for the debacle, though Kesri had not addressed a single public gathering. Logic was: ‘All advantage of Sonia Gandhi leading the charge was lost due to the weak leadership of Kesri.’ Ground was being laid for Sonia Gandhi’s ascent by king-makers and chess-board politicians within Congress.

Allegations against Kesri flew thick and fast: he was not able to converse with leaders from South India as he did not know English; that he was anti-upper castes (Kesri came from an OBC caste); that he was conspiring to join forces with socialists such as Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav; reports said industrialists were against Kesri’s leadership and would not support party’s efforts if he continued.

Observers say that Kesri too had become assertive in his own right as Congress president. He used to say that despite his humble background, he had risen to the position of the party’s leader. This, reportedly and allegedly, did not go down well with Sonia Gandhi, who, allegedly realized that such a narrative would loosen Nehru-Gandhi family’s chokehold over the Congress.

Sensing the writing on the wall, Kesri resigned on 9 March, 1998, but did a U-turn and took it back, deciding to quit on the day of his choosing, at an open AICC session.

But, on 14 March, 1998, Congress Working Committee (CWC) met at 24, Akbar Road. An unsuspecting Kesri walked in, unaware that he had already been stabbed in the back: pro-Sonia Gandhi coterie had met at Pranab Mukherjee’s residence earlier and decided on introducing two resolutions: one removing Kesri; the other elevating Sonia Gandhi.

Those in the know of things say Kesri caught on the reality pretty soon when only Tariq Anwar stood up to greet him at the meeting. Mukherjee ‘thanked’ him for his service to the party!

Kesri raged, to no end, and walked out of the meeting, to his room and Anwar followed. A bunch of leaders led by Manmohan Singh went to propitiate Kesri, but he refused to come back. He was, apparently, locked in the room from outside!

Sonia Gandhi entered the Congress headquarters amid an air triumph. Frenzied Youth Congress chaps even tried to pull Kesri’s dhoti down as he was getting inside his car to leave! By the time he exited 24, Akbar Road, his nameplate was torn out and thrown in a dustbin, replaced by a printout that read: ‘Congress President Sonia Gandhi’.

This was the incident Prime Minister Narendra Modi was referring to at a speech in Chhattisgarh. “The country knows that Sitaram Kesri…was not allowed to complete his five-year-term as the Congress president. He was thrown out of office and to the footpath to make way for Sonia Gandhi as the new party chief,” PM Modi had said, taking a leaf out of history.

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