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Jairam junked for twin gaffes

New Delhi, Dec. 1: The Congress has dropped Jairam Ramesh from its “group on future challenges” whose membership gave the junior commerce and industries minister easy access to Rahul Gandhi.

Sources put the move down to a mix of “indiscretion and workload”. They said Jairam, a convener of the group, had called a meeting without Sonia Gandhi’s sanction. He had also allegedly circulated a note to 13 members that carried some personal information about Rahul that was not to be shared.

The gaffes violated two Congress codes: one, all high-level meetings need the leader’s permission; and two, given the Nehru-Gandhi family’s insistence on privacy and security, all papers must be vetted carefully before they are sent out.

Some also pointed to factional politics in the minister’s home state. Jairam and the group’s recently appointed chairman, Veerappa Moily, are both from Karnataka and are known to disagree on most political and economic issues.

Sonia had formed the “future challenges” group last September as a think tank on the issues facing, or likely to face, the party and the country.

Asked about Jairam’s exit, Moily said the minister had ceased to be a member of the group a day after its first meeting in September. But Congress sources said Jairam had not missed any of the three meetings held so far.

Some party functionaries sympathetic to Jairam said he may have been “eased” out because of his workload. But most others rejected this, saying “work pressure” and proximity to Rahul are the two things most sought after in the Congress.

Jairam is a member of the National Advisory Council, but it has almost become defunct since Sonia resigned as its head.

Jairam has a history of courting controversy. He recently demanded the resignation of culture minister Ambika Soni following the row over the government affidavit in the Ram Setu case that suggested Ram may not have existed. The party quickly distanced itself from his remark.

In May 2000, Jairam had given an interview for a foreign magazine article, “Sonia — No Longer the Savior”, saying: “People who saw her (Sonia) as a ticket to nirvana now see her as a ticket to narak (hell).”

He predicted: “If things go the way they are, Congress will not come back to power for another 50 years.”

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