On Monday, as the news spread of Supriya Shrinate replacing him, many Congress workers openly supported the move, suggesting the anger building up against the 44-year-old Gupta, who was a surprise choice for the Delhi post, being largely based in Ahmedabad before then.
In the Gujarat unit, where Gupta’s father Rajkumar was considered a confidant of the late Gandhi loyalist and influential leader Ahmed Patel, the camp close to the family and Gupta himself denied the shift to AICC spokesperson was a demotion, claiming it was “actually a bigger responsibility”. In his new role, Gupta will be reporting to Pawan Khera, the new media department chairperson of the Congress.
Some of his detractors say he filled the department with his loyalists. Others question the campaign expenses by his team during the Goa and Uttarakhand Assembly elections. The biggest charge, however, was about the way he ran the party’s social media. “He was more interested in participating in television debates. He would be out of reach from 4 pm to 8 pm. He wasn’t hands-on, or inspiring, which led to disenchantment in the team. Many resigned, the team that had about 40 professionals when he took over saw about 30 leave,” one leader said.
Among the last straws was the controversy that broke earlier this month about Gupta’s wife Yogita and brother Arpan being partners in Sunbirds Infrabuild, a limited liability partnership firm whose promoter Ajay Patel is seen as a confidant of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Gupta claimed that his wife and brother had resigned from the firm “as soon as we realised the bank was promoted by Ajay Patel”.
Among those to put in papers over differences with Gupta was Saral Patel, one of the national convenors. After he resigned in September last year, the high command intervened to convince him to stay back. A few days ago, Gupta appointed Patel as chairman of Gujarat’s social media department, apparently out of the blue. Patel is yet to take charge.
Hasiba Amin, another popular social media face, is said to have resigned as national convenor some days ago.
Of the 11-odd people considered his loyalists and appointed coordinators by him, too, many have left. “He has left the department in quite a mess,” a leader said.
Gupta’s family that belongs originally to Bhiwani in Haryana has a long association with the Congress. Father Rajkumar, a veteran Gujarat leader, has held positions ranging from vice-president to treasurer in the state unit, bringing him close to Ahmed Patel, the tallest leader of the Congress in the state.
Comet Group of Companies owned by the Guptas is involved in the manufacture, trade and import of chemicals. Gupta’s Linkedin profile shows him as the “owner” of Comet Group, though he says he has “exited” the family business, which is now handled by his brother Arpan.
For the last 40 years, Rajkumar has been running the Gujarat Lok Seva Trust. He says it does charity work like providing ambulance services, medical supplies, and books and other help to needy school students.
A postgraduate from Symbiosis University, Pune, as per Rajkumar, Gupta joined the Congress around 10 years ago. Two years later, in 2014, he was appointed chairman of the state unit’s IT cell. Speaking to The Indian Express, Gupta claimed credit for the ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe (Vikas has gone crazy)’ campaign in the 2017 Assembly elections, in which the Congress got its highest number of seats (77 out of 182) since 1985.
According to Gupta, it was with him at the helm as the national media coordinator that the Congress also won the Assembly elections in Rajasthan in 2018.
In 2017, when a petition was moved in the Gujarat High Court by the BJP’s Balwantsinh Rajput, challenging Patel’s narrow win in the Rajya Sabha polls, Gupta was among the defence witnesses.
Rajkumar too claims credit for a poll win, of the Congress in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation elections in 2000. He was the city party president at the time.
On his association with Patel, Rajkumar recalls that when the late leader was president of the Gujarat Congress in the 1980s, the party had only two office-bearers – Nirupam Nanavaty (now a leading Gujarat High Court lawyer) and him. “It was only later that the organisation expanded.”
About Sunbirds Infrabuild, association with which may have hastened his departure from the IT cell post, Rohan Gupta says: “The company was established in August 2021 and in September (2021), we joined as investors. We had no idea that his (Ajay Patel’s) wife was in the firm, else we would have never joined. My wife and brother resigned the same year, on October 5.”
In 2018, the same Ajay Patel had lodged a criminal defamation case against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, over his tweets linking the ADC bank where Shah is a director to demonetisation. The trial is still on. In another defamation suit, a BJP leader had sought the summoning of Gupta for Gandhi’s tweets against Shah. However the magistrate court had rejected the application.
As Rajkumar said Tuesday that Gupta’s appointment as spokesperson was an “upgrade” for his son, Gupta himself noted that general secretary K C Venugopal’s note on the transfer “appreciated” his contributions to the party. “I will work to strengthen the party right up to the booth level ahead of the Assembly elections,” he said. Asked if he would contest the elections, he said, “let’s see”.
Any such move is set to run into opposition from Congress ranks. Party leaders in Ahmedabad claimed they were foxed even at how Gupta had managed to get an AICC assignment. “Given the controversy surrounding his connection with Ajay Patel’s firm, the party appears to have sidelined him. But perhaps nobody is actually thrown out in the Congress,” a senior leader said.