‘She­hzad re­buffed on Congress’ What­sApp group be­fore he re­belled’

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her to grant mi­nor­ity sta­tus to Hin­dus liv­ing in the state, a de­mand which they found not in con­cur­rence with the party line.

The sources added that after She­hzad de­manded mi­nor­ity sta­tus for Hin­dus in J&K on 22 Novem­ber, he was crit­i­cised on a What­sApp group floated by Congress’ “young” lead­ers and of­fi­cials. “She­hzad was snubbed in the group. Since J&K has spe­cial sta­tus, the pro­vi­sions for the mi­nori­ties can­not be ex­tended to it. Ar­ti­cle 370 takes care of ev­ery com­mu­nity’s needs in the state. She­hzad’s state­ment al­most seemed in favour of ab­ro­gat­ing Ar­ti­cle 370, which is in stark con­trast to the party line. When this was pointed out in the group, many lead­ers ex­pressed their ir­ri­ta­tion. From this point, we knew he would do some­thing ex­treme, as he him­self said even Rahul Gandhi had not obliged his long re­quest for a meet­ing,” a Congress source, who is a mem­ber of this What­sApp group, told this re­porter.

The source quoted added: “The com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­part­ment of the AICC de­cides who all will rep­re­sent the party on prime­time de­bates on tele­vi­sion, and they are given prior in­struc­tions on what to say. But She­hzad would use his me­dia con­nec­tions and his prox­im­ity to Robert Vadra to ap­pear as a de facto Congress spokesper­son on TV. He never in­formed the com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­part­ment about his pro­grammes and rarely con­sulted se­niors on the party line. This had be­come a bone of con­tention with the com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­part­ment.”

The source quoted fur­ther said that a com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­part­ment mem­ber had thrice rep­ri­manded She­hzad over his unau­tho­rised ap­pear­ances on TV. “In the past one year, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­part­ment asked She­hzad thrice to fol­low pro­ce­dures, but he re­mained adamant,” the source said.

But She­hzad Poon­awalla pointed to the con­tra­dic­tion in the Congress’ stand, while talk­ing to this news­pa­per: “Just yesterday they have of­fi­cially said that I have not been a mem­ber of the party for two- and- a-half years. Then in what ca­pac­ity was the me­dia de­part­ment rais­ing ob­jec­tions on my ap­pear­ances on TV. If I am a pri­vate ci­ti­zen then what role do they have in guid­ing me?”

He said he was never asked by any AICC co­or­di­na­tor not to ap­pear on TV de­bates as the party’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “The AICC did not speak to me on this is­sue. But the ques­tion here again is that are they ac­cept­ing that Ashok Cha­van is ly­ing that I was not a mem­ber of the party for the last twoand-a-half years? Be­cause there is no other rea­son for their ob­ject­ing to my com­ing on TV and com­ment­ing on any topic un­der the sun,” he said.

When asked about his sta­tus in the Congress, She­hzad said “I am a mem­ber of the Congress and my name is still there on the Ma­ha­rash­tra Congress web­site.”

He for­warded doc­u­ments— screen­shot of Shashi Tha­roor’s tweet dated 18 Novem­ber in which he is com­mend­ing his “hard work for the party”, let­ters is­sued to him by Ma­ha­rash­tra Congress on their of­fi­cial let­ter­heads dated 5 June 2017, 22 June 2017 and 21 April 2016—prov­ing his ac­tive mem­ber­ship with the Congress. When asked if he had re­ceived any for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the AICC after rais­ing ob­jec­tion to Rahul Gandhi’s spec­u­lated el­e­va­tion as party pres­i­dent, he said, “No, I haven’t.”

Mean­while, an­other source said that some time ago, com­plaint about She­hzad’s TV ap­pear­ances reached Rahul Gandhi who, in turn, took it up with his sis­ter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. “Rahul Gandhi was in­formed about how She­hzad was us­ing his prox­im­ity with Robert Vadra to gain me­dia lime­light. Rahul dis­cussed this with Priyanka. She said she was hardly in touch with either She­hzad or her hus­band Robert Vadra’s cousin Mon­icka who is mar­ried to Tehseen, She­hzad’s brother. She ad­vised Rahul Gandhi to ig­nore him,” the source said.

On Thurs­day, She­hzad had ques­tioned Rahul Gandhi’s likely el­e­va­tion as Congress pres­i­dent, al­leg­ing that it was a “rigged” and “sham” ex­er­cise. “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? 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 rather than your sur­name? If yes, let’s have that con­test. I am ready,” he had said.

The Ma­ha­rash­tra Congress re­buffed his com­ments, say­ing he was not even a pri­mary mem­ber of the party and was miss­ing in ac­tion in the state for the last two years. State Congress pres­i­dent Ashok Cha­van said Poon­awalla’s re­marks were aimed at get­ting “cheap pub­lic­ity”.

She­hzad’s brother Tehseen Poon­awalla dis­owned him pub­licly. “I for­mally and firmly de­clare in front of the me­dia—my wife, my mother and I have noth­ing to do with She­hzad Poon­awalla; we refuse to be as­so­ci­ated with him,” Tehseen de­clared.

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