How Vivek Tankha, a Little-Known Congressman, Set Off a Domino Effect of Resignations

Over the years, the former additional solicitor general of India and advocate general of Madhya Pradesh has emerged as a reliable legal luminary-turned-politician.

After facing a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the BJP in the 2019 general election, Rahul Gandhi offered to resign as Congress president on May 23.

But over a month later, no one followed suit barring a few here and there in Uttar Pradesh.

Three days later, the Gandhi scion had also blamed Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath for promoting their sons at the cost of the party.

Finally, on June 27, Vivek Tankha resigned as head of the legal and RTI cell of the All India Congress Committee.

This launched a domino effect of resignations.

Tankha may seem like an odd choice to have kickstarted said resignations considering lawyers Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and P. Chidambaram have been around for far longer.

But over the past couple of years, the Gandhis have come to rely on Tankha equally for their court cases.

Over the years, the former additional solicitor general of India and advocate general of Madhya Pradesh has emerged as a reliable legal luminary-turned-politician. He was generally known as an advisor to leaders from his home state – cutting across party lines till he unsuccessfully contested the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections as an independent backed by the Congress.

Back then, it was thought that chief minister Shivraj Singh, whom he considered a friend, could have lent his support to Tankha during in the election. He didn’t and Tankha fell short by two votes as the third candidate.

Also read: Rahul Says He’s No Longer Congress President, Takes Responsibility for 2019 Loss

The defeat may have hardened Tankha’s resolve to align his ship with the Congress where he held the trust of Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Digvijay Singh and the rest. Despite having been Digvijay Singh’s advocate general, he managed cultivated an image of neutrality through his social work and legal demeanour.

But after 2015, the Gandhis had more reasons to be in touch with him. A soft-spoken Kashmiri Pandit with impeccable manners, he impressed the family as someone who could be trusted. But his own reticence in hogging limelight has kept his public profile under par so far.

After losing the 2012 Rajya Sabha polls, Tankha was persuaded to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha from Jabalpur, which he lost to Rakesh Singh as the Modi wave swept the country.

But the loss did not harm his image. In his home town, Tankha and his family are respected for reasons other than politics. His father late, R.K. Tankha, was a high court judge and his father-in law, late Colonel Ajay Narain Mushran, was the finance minister for ten years in Digvijay’s cabinet.

When Vivek Tankha started his legal career in 1979, he decided to plough his own furrow which over years has included immense amount of social work in education for children with special needs and free health camps for the blind as also free blood banks in at least four major district hospitals in MP. He has used his legal and rotary networks to keep his passion for social work properly funded.

As advocate general, he had made an impact on the Supreme Court. On suggestions from senior lawyers and judges, he decided to shift base to Delhi after 2004. His political connections also meant he got involved in the power circuit in the capital, which eventually led to his nomination as Rajya Sabha member from MP in 2016. But before that, he was an additional advocate general during the UPA II regime, handling matters relating to Reliance and the telecom sector amongst others.

What may brought him close to Sonia Gandhi was his single minded determination to pursue the Vyapam cases against the Shivraj government in the Supreme Court at a time when both the Centre and state had BJP governments and the investigating agencies were not at their cooperative best.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s Insistence to Step Down as Congress President Leaves UPA Leaders Anxious

So where is this present round of resignations headed as far as Tankha is concerned? He has certainly emerged as a key figure even while keeping his focus on MP politics – as can be seen by his recent tweets on Kamal Nath.

It’s a given that Rahul may not rock the boat too much and remove Nath and Gehlot unless he has some major assignment for them. There was some talk of Gehlot becoming working president of the AICC but that appears to be on the backburner for now. Nath’s rival for the chief ministerial post, Jyotiraditya Scindia, recently lost the Lok Sabha elections from his family seat. But that has not stopped his supporters from clamouring for him to be given charge of the PCC.

It’s not an election year in MP and Scindia, despite his media image, is not an acceptable figure outside the Gwalior region. He lacks a connect with the poor and carries too much baggage of the Raj parivar.

The Congress has tried almost all caste combinations in the MP unit, but without success in building an organisation. Many believe Tankha, with his clean image and work in tribal areas like Mandla, Jabalpur and Jhabua, may be an ideal choice to rebuild the party structure.

He certainly seems to share a good equation with Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. The only hurdle seems to be his  own willingness to dive into the hurly burly of ground level politics outside the charmed circle of an established legal practise.

Or maybe Rahul has other plans for him in Delhi.