The rout in the assembly polls has forced Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s hand. He has sought the services of Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh to head the party’s war room at Rakabganj Road ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Sources close to Ramesh, 59, said he would quit as cabinet minister to focus on coordinating from the war room. He had resigned from the ministry months before the 2009 elections also to play a crucial role in coordinating Rahul Gandhi’s tour plans and his communication strategies.
To get ready for the task ahead, Ramesh has started clearing the few files that remain on his desk.
Political circles are abuzz with talk that senior ministers such as health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and defence minister AK Antony had also offered to return to the party. Prime minister Manmohan Singh, however, put his foot down and asked them to continue in the government.
Azad and Antony along with commerce minister Anand Sharma and external affairs minister Salman Khurshid have been asked to work for the party while continuing in government.
Sources in Rahul Gandhi’s office said plans for creating a new leadership and decentralising power down to the district level have not been abandoned. Instead, the focus has shifted to the challenges posed by the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
The plans have sent shockwaves among the old guard in the Congress as well as some MPs who fear that they will be sidelined. Sources said Rahul is personally supervising preparations for the polls and has approved a special campaign to confront Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi — the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Ramesh had already been taking potshots at Modi, questioning Modi’s leadership qualities.
Ramesh, who is set to coordinate and implement this campaign across the country, is expected to join the war room early next year as Congress leaders have emphasised on the urgency to blunt the Modi-effect. They believe Modi was responsible for the propaganda which created
a perception among voters that eventually led to the Congress’s dismal performance in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
As part of this new found drive, and to open up communication channels, the usually media-shy Rahul Gandhi has been holding informal meetings with media persons in groups.
As part of the group of ministers, Ramesh played a key role along with AK Antony, P Chidambaram, Sushilkumar Shinde, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Veerappa Moily in drafting a bill for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.