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Posted at: Mar 15, 2019, 4:00 PM; last updated: Mar 15, 2019, 4:04 PM (IST)OPINION

Tom Vaddakan brings to end a wait that held no hope

Tom Vaddakan brings to end a wait that held no hope
Congress former spokesperson Tom Vadakkan at the BJP office in New Delhi on Thursday. Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal

Rasheed Kidwai

Senior journalist and author
Even as the ‘grand old party’ gets ready to face another election, a crucial one, the issue of sheer survival of the Congress confronts it unambiguously.

The exit of an otherwise lowly functionary, Tom Vaddakan, may not be significant, but is a pointer to the general drift that has set in. Tom had been part of the Congress since the early 1980s, and remained a loyal soldier. Since loyalty in the political arena is not absolute, the Malayali advertising professional kept hoping against hope for an office and a position. In the 10 long years that the Congress-led UPA called the shots, Tom’s only reward came in the form of membership of the National Central Film Censor Board and delegate membership of the Kerala Film Censor Board.

Tom was never close to Sonia Gandhi, nor was he a “key Sonia aide”. He worked in various capacities — as convener of News Watch and member of the National Grievances Cell, where he used to report to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, courtesy V George, an all-powerful personal assistant to Rajiv Gandhi. In the Narasimha Rao-Sitaram Kesri and Sonia Gandhi era, when George’s clout dwindled, Tom was quick to shift loyalty to S.V. Pillai, a key Sonia aide.

Perhaps a script for Tom’s exit was being prepared when 10 Janpath witnessed a warm send-off accorded to Pillai recently. Sonia Gandhi was present at the high tea organised by Pillai’s country cousin, P.P. Madhvan, through personal contributions. Pillai, like Madhvan, was a former Union ministry employee, and had served Sonia when she was leader of the Opposition, UPA chairperson and NAC head for decades. In Congress circles, some used to address both Madhvan and Pillai as “Sir” or “Saheb.” 

Apparently, Pillai was not keen to go back to home state Kerala, but in the Sonia household, there are no options. Tom’s patron gone from 10 Janpath, and the politician already removed as AICC media department secretary, his option to look for “greener pastures” in the season of migratory birds was in keeping with the political culture of the day.

Extending patronage in exchange of loyalty has not been a strong point of Sonia or Rahul Gandhi. There is a near endless list of “past performers” who grudge that their services were not suitably rewarded. M.L. Fotedar and R.K. Dhawan died disillusioned men. Hansraj Bhardwaj, M.K. Narayanan and a range of old-timers are unhappy, too, eager to spill the beans. Natwar Singh still complains of being unfairly treated. Sonia and her son have their own version. They cannot go on rewarding infinitely when no one volunteers to retire and Rajya Sabha berths are virtually non-existent.

On her part, Sonia, unlike Rajiv or Indira Gandhi, was rather fastidious in extending patronage. In the UPA era, many were benefitted in spite of their anti-Congress stance of the past.

In 1998, Sonia Gandhi had just taken over and was leading a march down Tilak Marg in New Delhi over onion shortage when Sushma Swaraj was Delhi chief minister. Chandresh Kumari Katoch’s sandal gave in, and the politician from Himachal Pradesh was struggling to walk when Sonia spotted her discomfort. The then Congress president quickly hailed a white Ambassador of the Special Protection Group that was providing cover to Sonia. She took out a fresh pair of sandals, but gave only one to Chandresh instead of the pair. A senior Congress leader later told this correspondent that he understood Sonia’s panache of offering only what was bare necessity, rather than being extravagant. Pity, it took so long for Tom to understand that.

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