Mumbai: Shehzad Poonawalla -- the Congress leader who called the party's internal polls to elect its chief "rigged" -- on Sunday found support from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who lauded him and used his claims to hit out at the Congress. Buoyed, Mr Poonawalla later said he has an audio tape that he wants to make public. The tape, he said, was of his conversation with the party's senior leader Manish Tiwari, who had "insulted" him.
- Shehzad called Congress' poll to elect chief rigged, denounced by party
- Says has incrimina1ting recording of call with party leader Manish Tewari
- Praised by PM at poll rally who said Congress has no internal democracy
Mr Poonwalla's second outburst came as notifications were issued for the internal elections. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, a longtime loyalist of the Gandhi family, signed nomination papers proposing Rahul Gandhi's name for the post of the president and said his elevation would help revive the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls."
Last week, the 30-year-old Maharashtra Congress Secretary, who indicated that he wanted to contest the election, had alleged that it was a sham since Rahul Gandhi enjoys an "unfair advantage". In a letter to Mr Gandhi, he demanded that he resign the vice president's post to level the field and enter a televised debate and "be judged on merit" rather than his surname.
On Sunday, Mr Poonawalla said Manish Tiwari, who is also the party spokesperson, had opposed him. Another senior leader, Sandeep Dikshit, the son of three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, had admitted that such things happen, he said.
"Manish Tewari said, 'Look what you're talking about is reforms, if you want a political career put this on the side'... I kept a recording of Manish Tewari's phone call - all this because Congress insulted me," Mr Poonawalla told reporters.
The alleged Congress backlash was happening when "the man (Modi) I have previously criticised is now lauding my bravery," he said.
PM Modi, who is canvassing for votes for the assembly elections in Gujarat that begins on Saturday, had mentioned Mr Poonawalla by name during his speeches on Sunday.
"A few days ago, in Navsari, I had said there are three polls whose results are certain. The Uttar Pradesh local polls, the Gujarat polls where I said BJP will win, and the Congress President election, where one family will win," he said. In this context, he mentioned Mr Poonawalla, saying the Congress has tried to "muzzle his voice and wants to even remove him from their social media groups".
Alleging that the party has no "tolerance", he said, "Those who have no internal democracy can't work for people... I want to tell this youngster Shehzad - you have done a brave thing but this is sadly what has always happened in the Congress".
Mr Poonawalla's comments have been denounced by his brother Tehseen Poonawalla, also a Congress leader. "It is totally unacceptable to me and my family...he should have presented whatever issues he had in the party forum...We now have nothing to do with him," he said on Sunday.