New Delhi: Three-and-a-half years after former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi's close confidante, Himanta Biswa Sarma, left the Congress to join the BJP in 2019, it was senior Congress leader Tom Vadakkan’s turn. A close aide of Sonia Gandhi who worked with Rajeev Gandhi as an advisor cited Congress’s stand after Balakot strike as the reason for his exit.

Former head of the Congress media cell Tom Vadakkan opened up to MyNation’s Anindya Banerjee and exposed a side of the party that only the ones in the thick of things can tell you. This is a déjà vu moment for Indian polity.

‘Didn’t get to meet Rahul for one year’

In a shocking revelation, the former Gandhi loyalist said he could not meet Rahul Gandhi ever since the latter became the Congress president. “I am going to shock you by telling this. Though I have played cricket with Rahul when he had not joined politics, I encountered him only once in a while when he was in his house… We nodded, acknowledged… I have not met him after he became the Congress president. The last appointment I sought is now roughly a year old,” said Vadakkan.

Surprisingly, even Himanta had a similar story to tell about Rahul.

‘Sonia better than Rahul’

Just like the Assam’s finance minister, Vadakkan contrasted Sonia’s regime with Rahul. Vadakkan credits the UPA chairperson of being a listener.  Vadakkan says, “At least with Sonia ji, she listens to people. But here what happens is, there’s no way you can get an audience. Listening happens only if you get an audience. At least, there was an attempt with Sonia ji, at least she met the workers and listened to them and gave advice quite often. However, with Rahul, there’s no such situation. He only does lip service and says he is there for the workers”. 

Also read: Congress leader Tom Vadakkan joins BJP to contest from Kerala for Lok Sabha election?

‘Rahul is like a sapling’

Vadakkan also called the Congress president a ‘sapling’. “I have seen him like a sapling. But he wants to cut others to make himself look big. I am sorry, it doesn’t happen this way in politics”, added the former Congress leader. This statement comes just a day after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee calls Rahul a ‘kid’. 

‘Rakesh Sinha got me into BJP’

It is RSS ideologue and BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Rakesh Sinha who made Tom Vadakkan consider joining BJP. "I was thinking about it for quite some time," insists Vadakkan. His first brush with BJP ideology was in a TV studio, says the new Christian face of the BJP. "We had discussions on cultural nationalism. He (Sinha) told me how its religion-neutral. Anyone can be a part of it,” says the former Gandhi loyalist.

According to him, it’s then that he actively started exploring possibilities of joining what Rakesh Sinha calls "cultural nationalism". On being asked when exactly it materialised, Vadakkan says, it all happened in a span of a week. He says, it was followed by discussions and meetings and it was decided that he would hold a press conferee at the BJP office to announce his joining.

‘BJP offered me ticket, I refused’

To the surprise of many, Vadakkan wasn’t given a ticket from Kerala for the upcoming 2019 general election. But he insists that the BJP offered him a seat without naming the constituency, and it was he who politely refused. The logic of Vadakkan is that he is very new to the organisation and not familiar with the local units that might feel betrayed on his nomination. “But I am open to taking any responsibility in the future, be it electoral or organisational, as the party would want,” he added. But for now, he said, he would want to build a connect with the state and local units. 

Also read: Congress's Tom Vadakkan joins BJP: Here’s what he has to say about Rahul Gandhi’s party

‘Sabarimala ban was wrong; Church supports tradition’

Speaking on what has come to be the most polarising issue in Kerala, Vadakkan didn’t mince words in supporting the Sabarimala tradition over the Supreme Court ban. He, in fact, went a step further to say when the state or the court interfere in beliefs, "it can be questioned". Being a prominent Christian face of the BJP from Kerala, Vadakkan assured even the Church is for the tradition of Sabarimala. The ban brought the state to a halt and violence erupted between the police and pro-tradition Ayappa devotees. Vadakkan lashed out at the party he was associated with for more than two decades, saying, “The Congess’s state unit has a stand and the central unit has another on this issue. But it is only the BJP which has singularly stood beside the followers”. 

In more ways than one, the interview of one of the old guards of the grand old party is reminiscent of Assam finance minister Himanta quitting the party. The former Gogoi confidante is now believed to be the most powerful BJP hand in the Northeast. Even Sarma had complained of waiting for months to meet Rahul Gandhi or preferring Sonia’s style of functioning over Rahul’s.

But in all these years, little seems to have changed in the Congress. Before wrapping up, Vadakkan made a strong statement saying, “As far as I am concerned, the media department of the Congress is demolished”. He said that the "cremation" of it has happened and, as per the ritual, "No one stays back at the crematorium; everyone moves on." And so did Vadakkan.