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For Rahul, polls revolve around mom, sis, Jairam, WhatsApp

Last updated on: March 14, 2019 09:52 IST

Rahul feels collective decisions taken with his mother and sister helped the party in the December assembly elections.
Hence, he wants to follow the same strategy for the Lok Sabha election, too.

Photograph: PTI Photo

Congress President Rahul Gandhi has introduced a new style of political campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha.

And that is to consult his sister Priyanka Gandhi, Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, on every issue.

Rahul feels that collective decisions taken with his mother Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka helped the party in the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly elections which the Congress won. Hence, he is bent upon following the same strategy for the Lok Sabha election, too.

Though Priyanka will be stationed in Lucknow, she is part of an exclusive WhatsApp group of top party leaders and exchanges views with others, following which the brother-sister duo take all major decisions.

Although Rahul is dependent on young faces and fresh recruits to the Congress, he has also taken a few elders who worked with his late father Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia and who have tremendous experience in handling Lok Sabha polls.

Congress strategies, implementation and alliance talks are directly conducted by Rahul with Priyanka's active support.

 

Outside his family Rahul has five confidants in the Congress who assist him: Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, Ashok Gehlot and Jairam Ramesh.

These Panch Pandavas, as the party refers to them, hold daily briefings with Rahul.

Similarly, Rahul has set up special committees for various tasks, but the main ones are all in the hands of former Union minister Jairam Ramesh who has emerged under Rahul Gandhi as the real point man for the Congress.

The Congress has its national headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, New Delhi, but it also has six other offices in the national capital, like 15, Gurudwara Rakabganj road; Jawahar Bhavan and 5, Raisina Road.

The Congress leaders use any of these venues for their meetings, but it is the bungalow at 15 Gurudwara Rakabganj road where daily state election committee meetings are held daily.

Ramesh, who handled the Congress's 2004, 2009 and 2014 war rooms, provides draft speeches, notes and Congress Working committee resolutions. For 2019, Rahul depends on him for drafting the Congress election manifesto.

Earlier, this task was undertaken by Pranab Mukherjee, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Rajeev Gowda and P Chidambaram. But in order to get fresh ideas and inputs, Rahul has involved six youngsters fresh out of IITs and foreign universities to give suggestions to Jairam Ramesh.

Very few leaders can SMS Rahul on his personal mobile phone, Jairam being among the handful. Congress insiders say many spot decisions are taken by Rahul on SMS and e-mail.

Some 25 top Congress leaders are in a WhatsApp group with Rahul, including a few members of his personal secretariat. Any major policy or political decision, directions or plans are discussed and approved on this WhatsApp group.

Some of the major tasks assigned to Jairam Ramesh are: To oversee the war room and coordinate with the Pradesh Congress committees; to head the newsroom of National Herald newspaper; to liaise with senior advertisement agencies to push daily newspaper ads and writing creative slogans; to coordinate Rahul's visits with state units and to coordinate publicity material.

Jairam Ramesh spends the day at the 15, Gurudwara Rakabganj road war room; his evenings are spent at 2, Tughlak lane, Rahul's home.

The buzz from insiders is that senior leaders like A K Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad have conveyed to Rahul not to overstate the Rafale deal as voters in north India are more concerned about the post Pulwama national security situation.

The excess focus on the Rafale deal, these Congress leaders feel, is bouncing back on Congress strategies since in the Hindi heartland the IAF airstrike has given the BJP political boost.

Hence, the Congress has been reworking its strategy, with leaders like Jairam Ramesh, Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot suggesting that Rahul focus instead on the agrarian crisis and unemployment.

Rediff Political Bureau in New Delhi
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