- Team Rahul Gandhi deploys 40 'Chuppa Rustams' in Gujarat
- Even top Congress leaders don't know who they are
- Helping decide strategy, candidate selection in Gujarat
The secrecy is not unwarranted, said more than one of these Chhupa Rustams that we spoke to. On reconnaissance missions, they gauge public mood to help shape what narrative the campaign should follow; more crucially, they try to evaluate which candidates the Congress should shortlist for the 182 seats in Gujarat that will be decided when the state votes next month.
As Rahul Gandhi attempts to drive a wedge Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his home state, which has been governed by the BJP for 22 years, his decision to use a secret council of advisors is based on recent experience in Goa and Punjab where the Congress leader's official aides were supplemented by another similar secret council that helped determine candidates. The Congress won the most seats in both states.
The "intel agency"of the Congress works like this, explained the source who is part of it. "Rahul Gandhi handpicks the top tier which then chooses the foot soldiers who conduct low-profile surveys of voters and party workers to identify which candidates are likely to be winning acts.
He said that senior Congress leaders - like Gujarat president Bharatsinh Solanki and Ashok Gehlot - are "partially in the know" about the role of the Chhupa Rustams. If there were full disclosure, he said, "they will drive us out...they will finish us in the womb before we do something. But they are not able to that means they have a message".
Its' not clear how much the committee is influenced by the Chhupa Rustams; its members didn't want to talk to NDTV. But an aspirant, Chamanji Thakor, who has twice been elected as a law-maker, told NDTV that "the party conducts a survey...who does it is a secret...but we are told it is carried out on the instructions of Rahul Gandhi. It is a top secret affair."
Congress sources who work closely with its Vice President said that for years, Mr Gandhi has been trying to create a team of young leaders across India whose motivation is not to run for office themselves but to help the party identify and promote deserving talent and candidates.
For all the effort that the Congress is putting into determining its candidates, equally crucial will be its strategy in deciding how to handle those it rejects. As Shankersinh Vaghela proved before quitting the party, it's easy to move disgruntled Congressman towards the BJP -at least six Congress law-makers switched teams at that point, in total 43 stayed loyal. Perhaps the secret ops should focus on uncovering other likely defectors, say some Congress sources wrly.
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