He is as old in the Congress party as Ahmed Patel, political secretary of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, but till 2009 not many knew of Dr Chandra Prakash Joshi, 64, in New Delhi.
He is one of those Congressmen who are currently part of Rahul Gandhi's trusted team. Even though he is a well-established leader of Rajasthan he hasn’t been seen seeking favours with so-called ‘old guards’ at 24, Akbar Road, the party headquarters.
In 2009, Dr Joshi got elected for the first time to the Lok Sabha from Bhilwara in Rajasthan and straightaway landed the rural development and panchayti raj ministry, and handling Rs 80,000 crore-plus budget to push the Congress's aam-admi agenda.
It was a big leap forward within the party.
There’s an interesting political story about him. Before the 2008 assembly election of Rajasthan, Joshi met Sonia Gandhi and showed her how nominating two heavyweight state Congressmen, again and again, is not helping the party.
His analysis of those two traditional Congress seats – where, although the party had been winning since 20 years, its actual vote percentage was not increasing in proportion to the increase in constituency size and the local voting pattern -- was out of the box. He insisted to the central leadership that in the 2008 election the party was set to lose many bastions.
Dr Joshi requested Sonia Gandhi to arrange a meeting for him with Rahul Gandhi, and after that fluke meeting arranged by no less than Sonia Gandhi embarked on a fast-paced political journey. Rahul empowered him by giving him a free hand to organise the 2008 Rajasthan election campaign. Dr Joshi’s organisational skill gave the party an almost clear majority. However, Dr Joshi himself lost by one vote.
As a result, the tried and tested Ashok Gehlot became the chief minister. However, Dr Joshi, who started his career under the formidable leadership of former Congress chief minister Mohanlal Sukhadia, became a rising star in New Delhi as Rahul Gandhi set about rearranging, redistributing, challenging and changing the power structure within the party.
In Rajasthan, the 2008 win gave Dr Joshi equal status of ‘collaborator’ in the party’s victory with Gehlot. Dr Joshi, like Gehlot, is not the typical old-time Congressman. He doesn’t mince words while giving his opinion, nor does he avoid questions. Many believe Rahul Gandhi likes him for his straight batting. He holds a double masters (in physics and psychology) and a degree in law, apart from a PhD in psychology.
Dr Joshi has been in politics since the early 1970s, and was a member of the Rajasthan assembly for four terms representing his native Nathdwara. He has been a state minister of panchayati raj, education, rural development, public health policy and planning and information technology.
He is also currently president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association. In spite of going full-throttle in the state’s cricket management and active politics, he remained an educator at the university in Udaipur until recently. He shares his penchant for numbers and analysis with his leader Rahul Gandhi.
In the last five years, he has got some plum assignments within the party set-up. He headed the screening committee for the Gujarat assembly election of 2012. The highly-political exercise of ticket distribution in Gujarat attracted huge attention. Congressmen were shocked to see that for the first time Ahmed Patel, the most powerful leader in the Congress, kept himself away from the pre-election negotiations.
Dr Joshi had his way even in Patel’s native constituency of Bharuch. However, the Congress's defeat in Gujarat has taught him a few lessons, claims Dr Joshi.
In the current round of assembly elections, he was head of the screening committee that decided the Congress candidates in Chhattisgarh. If the Congress wins back Chhattisgarh, Dr Joshi will get huge chunk of the credit.
As expected, as his affinity with Rahul Gandhi has developed, he has been, increasingly, subjected to jealousy and malicious campaigns within the party. His critics say that he is too blunt to be a consensus-maker, some say he is arrogant because of his academic background. He enjoys a comfort level with the high-tech working style of Rahul Gandhi, and even that's envied by old-style Congressmen.
His well-managed website says Dr Joshi, over the years, has walked the philosophy of not expecting anything from anyone. “Walk alone and keep no references, for everyone is unique,” he sums it up. In the last Cabinet reshuffle he has been asked to resign to serve the party, which is seen as a sign of the trust that he enjoys with the Gandhis.
In person Dr Joshi looks younger than his age, enjoys gossiping like a college student. These days he constantly keeps an eye on his iPhone to keep tabs on inputs from district-level party workers. He has strong views against ceding turf to regional parties and has definite ideas to revive the weak or near-absent party structures in many states. However, it seems in the last five years he has learned many lessons in New Delhi, which makes him less rigid and more and more pragmatic.
His career is under scrutiny as he rose within the party in spite of the fact that he was very ‘different’ from the powerful oldies of Congress. Will his craving for electoral success for his leader Rahul Gandhi make him practise the politics of manoeuvring and expediency that Congressmen are known for?
Rahul Gandhi and some of the Congressmen like him are privately complaining against the lack of transparency in the decision-making in New Delhi. Will he be any different from the party ‘old guard’?
One will find the answer in the May 2014 general election in which Dr Joshi is likely to play an important role while working behind Rahul Gandhi.
Dr Joshi belongs to the school of Congressman who are super-confident about taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
They believe that if the party ensures fairplay in ticket distribution by insisting on the winnability factor and ensures that the party highlights what all it is doing for its core constituency through social welfare schemes, it stands a good chance to fight back Modi’s propaganda against the Congress.
The suave and smiling Dr Joshi is at his most bitter and blunt when criticising Modi.
In a rare and exclusive interview with rediff.com’s Sheela Bhatt, Dr Joshi defended the quite indefensible act of distribution of tickets to relatives of tainted and jailed Congress leaders in Rajasthan.
Any which way one evaluates the ongoing changes in the Congress under Rahul Gandhi, Dr Joshi is the phenomenon to be watched.
Read his exclusive interview to Sheela Bhatt on Thursday