LONDON: Congress president has said the party was beset with a “GenNext vs Old Guard” clash in 2014 and put down the generational tiff and consequent organisational disarray in the last years of the UPA government as a key reason for the party‘s debacle in an election that saw BJP win a clear majority.

Speaking to students at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Friday night, Rahul said, “There are senior leaders with experience and understanding and there are youngsters who are developing. You can‘t break the past because there‘s a lot of value in some of the senior people. So, the present has to be a merger of the future and the past, and that‘s really why Congress ran into trouble in 2014 because we found that there was an internal fight taking place between the older generation and the younger generation.”

The detailed reference is significant since it was Rahul‘s ascent to leadership that brought to the fore younger leaders along with a demand for a generational overhaul of the organisation and a pushback from the veterans. The groupism is widely viewed to have opened up a chasm and created bad blood. It came about when his mother was party president and Rahul was yet to formally take charge.

At another engagement, Rahul said Congress had no role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots + . He told an audience of UK-based parliamentarians and local leaders on Friday that the incident was a tragedy and painful experience, but disagreed with the view that the Congress was “involved”, according to a PTI report.

Though he was not expected to acknowledge Congress‘s involvement, his comment will be contested in the context of the alleged role of various party leaders in the violence. “I have no confusion in my mind about that. It was a tragedy, it was a painful experience. You say that the Congress party was involved in that, I don‘t agree with that. Certainly there was violence, certainly there was tragedy.”

At LSE, asked about anti-Sikh riots in 1984, Rahul said, “When Manmohan Singh spoke, he spoke for all of us. I am a victim of violence and I understand what it feels like… I condemn that 100 per cent, and I am 100 per cent for punishment to people + who are involved in violence against anybody. And that‘s crystal clear.”

On the inter-generational conflict, however, his remarks conveyed that since taking over the party leadership from Sonia, he has been trying to bridge the generational gap.

“A lot of the work we have done now is to try and bring them (old and new generations) together successfully. So you can see, for example, in Rajasthan, working with Ashok Gehlot or you can see in Madhya Pradesh or in Maharashtra, you can see this taking shape.”

Rahul‘s candid comments are significant as a lot is riding for the party on generational unity, the issue being significant in the crucial year-end assembly elections in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The young and old leaders have competing ambitions in these states, a reason why the party may not announce chief ministerial candidates during the campaign.

These state polls would set the mood for next year‘s parliamentary elections where Congress and other opposition parties would try to dislodge the Narendra Modi-led BJP from power.

Rahul Gandhi also admitted that Congress has not been able to fashion in a clear message for the electorate unlike BJP — a reason for its weak communication.

“BJP and have a much clearer message. RSS has spent a certain amount of time working on its idea. Gandhiji used to do that for us. The big leaders of the freedom party did that but we have not kept pace. Congress needs to be more precise about what it stands for,” he said.

He also said arrogance crept into the party during 10 years in power and was the reason why it lost the 2014 elections badly.

The Congress president also told the Indian media in London that fugitive tycoon Vijay Mallya should be put in the same jail as any other Indian, but tried to put the blame of his escape and that of diamantaire Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi squarely on BJP.

On his remarks on RSS and , he iterated, “Both were founded in the 1920s, both are trying to capture institutions via the electoral process, both were banned after assassinations and women are banned in both. Let‘s talk facts, they are similar they are trying to do the same thing. They are trying to capture institutions so the democratic voice is threatened.”

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