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Rahul’s backroom boys and girl

New Delhi, April 22: Jitendra Singh, Meenakshi Natarajan and Ashok Tanwar are names few outside the Congress will have heard of. But when Congress members want to track Rahul Gandhi’s travels, they have to tap the trio.

They are new, key members of Rahul’s team at the Congress headquarters, planning his programmes and logistics.

None of them is a Harvard- or Wharton-minted computer engineer or financial analyst, the kind Rahul might have been drawn to as he looks to discard the party’s feudal baggage and give it a more contemporary look.

“Bhanwar” Jitendra represents the Alwar royalty. Tanwar is valued as much for being a Dalit as for his membership of the Jawaharlal Nehru University network.

Meenakshi, who cut her political teeth in Madhya Pradesh’s small towns and combines oratorical fire with organisational skill, is the Congress’s answer to Uma Bharti. She had coined the slogan “Gau hamari maata hai, Atal Bihari khata hai (the cow is our mother, yet Atal Bihari eats her meat)” for the last Madhya Pradesh elections.

As Congress secretaries, Jitendra and Meenakshi might have been the counterparts of ministers of state: appendages to their bosses with hardly any work. As Youth Congress president, Tanwar may have been used for rustling crowds.

But thanks to having Rahul as their boss they have risen several notches above their peers in the past seven months or so. Jitendra and Meenakshi are attached to Rahul while Tanwar reports to him because the Amethi MP is in charge of the Youth Congress.

Party sources say that while the other secretaries wait endlessly to meet their seniors, Rahul’s backroom aides sail in without knocking.

The trio, however, deny credit for Rahul’s moves such as eating at a Dalit’s home or marching to a divisional commissioner’s office to protest sluggish implementation of the rural job scheme. Those were Rahul’s own, impromptu decisions, they say.

In a party that puts a premium on information on the first family, the trio are repositories of such knowledge. Yet, because the Gandhis cherish secrecy and invisibility, none of the three wants to come into the public domain.

“I’ve always stayed away from the media because I believe in working quietly,” said Jitendra, a two-time MLA from Rajasthan.

They have internalised the Congress’s loyalty mantra. “Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru have been the greatest influences on my life and now it’s Sonia Gandhi,” Meenakshi said. “If I have to give up my life for anyone, it will be for the family,” Tanwar said.

None of them is from a Congress family. Jitendra’s mother, Mahendra Kumari, was elected a BJP MP from Alwar. He is at pains to explain it was not a political choice.

“My mother was very close to Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia. She was one of the first girls to pass her school finals from the Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya. In 1991, the Rajmata made her swear she would contest and she honoured the pledge. She quit shortly,” he said.

Tanwar’s USP is the JNU connection at a time the Congress’s student wing, the National Students Union of India, barely has a presence on the campus. “But whenever I contested the president’s post, I got more votes than anyone else (from the NSUI),” he said.

There is a personal reason, too, why Tanwar is close to the Gandhis.

When he wanted to marry Avantika, granddaughter of former President Shankar Dayal Sharma and daughter of Lalit Maken and Gitanjali — who were assassinated 23 years ago — the girl was reluctant because she had just come out of a bad marriage. Sonia Gandhi played agony aunt and advised Avantika to go ahead.

Meenakshi’s entry into the charmed circle flummoxed the Congress. Sources said she had powerful godfathers, who included Mukul Wasnik, Digvijay Singh and P.A. Sangma.

One of Sangma’s last acts before quitting the Congress on the issue of Sonia’s “foreign origin” was to appoint Meenakshi the NSUI president. The job was her stepping stone from the small town of Ratlam to Delhi’s power corridors.

UP transfer

Mayavati’s government tonight transferred Jhansi divisional commissioner P.B. Jaganmohan, who had met Rahul Gandhi on Friday and accepted a memorandum.

The Congress MP had sat on dharna with farmers till Jaganmohan agreed to see them. They were protesting against non-implementation of the rural jobs scheme in the state.

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