THE president of the All India Mahila Congress and one of the Congress’s most prominent Assam faces, Sushmita Dev, has become the latest leader to leave the party. On Monday, she joined the Trinamool Congress in Kolkata.
Dev is the fourth high-profile young face of the Congress, and one of the noted members of ‘Team Rahul’, to leave the party in the last two years. While Dev was said to be unhappy over some of the decisions taken by the leadership in Assam, her resignation signals the increasing frustration among young leaders over the drift in the Congress.
A former MP from Silchar, Dev is the daughter of the late Santosh Mohan Dev and was considered the face of the Congress in Assam’s largely Bengali-speaking Barak Valley. Since it failed to oust the BJP from power in the recent Assembly elections, the Congress has now lost three leaders in Assam, including Rupjyoti Kurmi and Sushanta Borgohain.
In a letter to interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Dev did not mention why she was resigning but said she cherished her “three-decade-long association” with the party. “May I take this opportunity to thank the party, all its leaders, members, and workers who have been a part of my memorable journey,” Dev wrote.
She did not respond to several attempts to reach her.
We warmly welcome the former President of All India Mahila Congress @sushmitadevinc to our Trinamool family!
— All India Trinamool Congress (@AITCofficial) August 16, 2021
As the Congress continues to bleed, there were other indications of the uneasiness within. Soon after news of Dev’s resignation emerged, Kapil Sibal tweeted: “While young leaders leave we ‘oldies’ are blamed for our efforts to strengthen it The Party moves on with: Eyes Wide Shut.”
Sibal was among the group of 23 Congress leaders who had written to Sonia seeking sweeping changes in the party. The group is again mounting pressure on the leadership to stop vacillating over appointing a full-time president. “Many young leaders fear they don’t have a political future with the Congress,” one leader said.
Rahul’s detractors point out that many of those leaving are second- or third-generation dynasts handpicked by him and rewarded over others. “The way the party is haemorrhaging… there will be no one left in the party. A party without a full-time president does not inspire confidence,” a leader said, adding that even Sonia taking formal charge “would make a difference”.
Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari, another member of G23, told The Indian Express that “there is a need for all of us to introspect as to why younger people are leaving. The Congress gave everything to a Priyanka Chaturvedi, a Jyotiraditya Scindia, a Jitin Prasada or a Sushmita Dev.”
While Chaturvedi is now with the Shiv Sena, Scindia and Prasada are in the BJP. In Rajasthan, another prominent youth face, Sachin Pilot, is chafing as he is kept hanging by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Party leaders claimed Dev’s resignation had taken them by surprise. Leader of the Opposition in Assam Debabrata Saikia said Dev was present at a meeting that Sonia and Rahul held with Assam leaders in Delhi Saturday. “We were not aware she was going to quit,” said Saikia.
— Sushmita Dev (@sushmitadevinc) August 16, 2021
While Dev said she had sent her resignation letter to Sonia on Friday evening, the Congress denied Sonia had received a letter from her. The chief spokesperson of the party, Randeep Surjewala, said the Congress had tried to reach out to Dev but her phone was switched off. “Sushmitaji is extremely versatile, talented and capable. Sonia Gandhiji and Rahul Gandhiji have always appreciated it,” he told reporters. Saying Dev had a “generational relationship” with the Congress, he added, “I am certain that she is mature enough to take whatever political decision that she takes with an appropriate consideration of her history, her legacy.”
The Assam PCC called Dev’s resignation “very shocking”, adding, “She is the daughter of a Congress stalwart… whose rise in politics of Barak Valley and Assam was nurtured by our leaders like Indiraji and Rajivji.”
The rumours of Dev being unhappy have been around since February, when she is said to have walked out of a Congress meeting over selection of candidates by the Congress and its seat-sharing with its new ally the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF. Dev felt her “political space was being shrunk”, said sources. “Her Lok Sabha seat (Silchar) has seven Assembly segments… there was talk that half of them would be given to the AIUDF or to Muslim candidates in the Assembly elections. She felt it would decimate the Congress in Barak Valley, alienate Hindu voters further, and hurt her in the 2024 elections as well,” a source close to her said.
“Even when it came to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), her position as a Bengali Hindu (the community largely supports the CAA in Assam) came in conflict with her party’s official stand on the Act,” the source said.
Dev could “play a “national” role in the TMC, especially given Mamata Banerjee’s plans to make inroads into Tripura. Santosh Mohan Dev is still a big name in Tripura, and in his seven terms as an MP, he had won five times from Silchar in Assam and twice from Tripura.
Dev joined the TMC in the presence of Abhishek Banerjee. Later, she released a video statement hailing Mamata and Abhishek Banerjee, saying they had ” excellent vision and clarity for the party”. She said she would hold a press conference in Delhi Tuesday.