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Congress hit by ‘ghost speaker’ row

New Delhi, Jan. 6: The Congress was today caught red-faced when it found itself having to explain whether the “spokesperson” it had fielded to brief the media was indeed a party member.

Worse, nobody had a clear answer. Some guessed the “spokesperson” had joined the party; others shrugged their ignorance.

Sanjay Jha is a familiar face: he had long been speaking for the Congress on TV channels before the party felt obliged to make it official.

Barely weeks after former media cell chief Janardan Dwivedi had wondered who this “self-styled Congressman” was, Jha was put on the official list of people authorised to represent the party at TV debates.

He began to attend the party’s media workshops to train spokespersons. Perhaps his experience as executive director of Dale Carnegie’s training operations in India, where he taught communication skills to corporate leaders, had impressed the Congress leadership.

Jha used the opportunity to make his presence felt on TV and Twitter, firing away even at bigwigs like Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley.

He was today presented before the national media, which seemed more interested in his political credentials than communication skills. Even before Jha had taken the mike, questions like “Who is he?” and “When did he become a spokesperson?” rang out.

Party communications department secretary Tom Vadakkan helped Jha brazen out these queries before he launched into a defence of Jawaharlal Nehru against Baba Ramdev’s criticism.

Some party veterans, however, viewed this as immature. “Ramdev’s rant doesn’t deserve an official response,” one of them said.

Jha spoke fluent English and Hindi but betrayed his lack of political experience by responding on sensitive issues, such as the corruption charges against Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh and possible alliances.

Instead of ducking or taking non-committal positions, he repeatedly got into the thick of argument to try and convince the questioners.

Politicians are expected to be able to talk without saying anything and know what not to say and when to stop.

Many reporters, however, seemed to care less about the content of Jha’s arguments than about making his official debut tougher than the party would have expected.

When Jha hailed Manmohan Singh by recalling that even Barack Obama had sought his advice, the next question that hit him was: “Do you mean to say Manmohan had a hand in ruining the American economy as well?”

Sarcasm was followed by scepticism: after the news conference, Jha was grilled about his status in the party. Whens, whys and how comes flew in from all corners.

He didn’t claim he had actually filled in a membership form, restricting himself to the modest explanation that he was working for the party.

“I am a diehard Congressman and those who watch television know me,” he pleaded before the probing journalists.

Jha had earned his public spurs by launching CricketNext.com. He then forayed into politics by floating HamaraCongress.com and, by voluntarily defending the Congress on every platform, has now forced the party to embrace him.

He hasn’t formally been made a spokesperson yet but was fielded today because most others were unavailable.