Sushmita Dev’s proximity to the Nehru-Gandhis can be gauged from the fact that she was the president of All India Mahila Congress. Even among the members of the Congress’s first family, she was considered closest to Rahul Gandhi.
Sources say she was a “go-to” leader for Rahul Gandhi with whom she had direct access. This is the reason why her quitting the Congress is puzzling many in the party.
Meanwhile in order to fill the vacancy created due to Sushmita Dev’s exit, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday appointed Netta D’Souza as acting president of All India Mahila Congress with immediate effect till a full-time president is appointed.
The sources said some recent developments as well as some old issues and prospects of her future growth forced her to resign from the Congress and choose West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) as her new party.
Daughter of veteran Congress leader Santosh Mohan Dev, Sushmita had won the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Silchar in Assam. However, she lost the 2019 election. After the enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019, her chances to win an election in her state has become bleaker.
Silchar is dominated by Bengali Hindus who are in favour of CAA while the Congress has taken a stand which is against the law. The Bengali Hindus have largely shifted their loyalty towards the BJP since 2019 and more particularly post-CAA.
The sources said more than being unhappy over the Congress’s stand, she was cut up with the party leadership for not involving her in the process to formulate a stand on CAA in Assam.
Secondly, the sources said Sushmita was unhappy with some appointments in the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC). This had irked her because it gave some edge to her rival Lok Sabha MP Gourav Gogoi, son of former three-term Assam chief minister late Tarun Gogoi.
Another reason – which those in the know of the developments say – was her being ignored for a Rajya Sabha seat. After she lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election, she was hopeful of getting a Rajya Sabha ticket which did not happen.
Under these circumstances, Sushmita did not see much of a future in the Congress.
The TMC is spreading its wings. It is trying to expand its base in the Northeast, particularly in Tripura and Assam.
Sushmita Dev fits in the TMC’s scheme of things.
Her father Santosh Mohan Dev was a seven-term Lok Sabha MP. Out of these terms, he had won twice from Tripura West.
Like her father, Sushmita too is considered a leader with considerable support at the ground level in both Assam and Tripura. She is likely to get more importance in TMC than she was getting in the Congress of late.
TMC thinks that as in West Bengal, the Left’s votes would be transferred to TMC in Tripura in the absence of a strong Congress. Sushmita is likely to be made a face of TMC in both Assam and Tripura.
Sushmita has quit the Congress at a time when the group of 23 dissenting leaders of the party are getting more vocal by the day. It has also come at a time when the party is making serious moves to project and prepare Rahul Gandhi to don the mantle of the president’s post in place of his mother. Rahul Gandhi’s leadership role has already come under attack and it may become sharper in the days to come.
Soon after Sushmita’s resignation, senior Congress leader and a prominent face of the G-23 Kapil Sibal took a jibe at the party leadership. In a tweet, he said, “Sushmita Dev resigns from primary membership of our party. While young leaders leave, we ‘oldies’ are blamed for our efforts to strengthen it. The party moves on with eyes wide shut.”
Sushmita Dev Resigns from primary membership of our PartyWhile young leaders leave we ‘oldies’ are blamed for o… https://t.co/qS0zANdOKh
— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) 1629087503000
Besides weakening the Congress and embarrassing the Nehru-Gandhis, Sushmita’s resignation is likely to deal a severe jolt to opposition unity. TMC and the Congress, which fought this year’s West Bengal assembly election as rivals, had started coming closer during the Monsoon Session of Parliament between July 19 and August 11.
Mamata visited the national capital and met Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul at 10, Janpath. Subsequently, TMC started attending the meetings of the opposition parties hosted by the Congress and chaired by Rahul Gandhi.
However, Sushmita’s switching over to the TMC may create distrust between the two parties. This is likely to impact the opposition unity which was witnessing slow steps forward. Not just the Congress but also the other opposition parties may feel suspicious of TMC.