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Rahul dips into govt for party ‘voice’

New Delhi, Jan. 21: Rahul Gandhi today drafted top leaders of the Congress to bolster its communication system after a unanimous conclusion that failure in marketing UPA-II’s achievements was the primary reason for the credibility crisis the party faced ahead of the general election.

This could be termed Rahul’s most radical decision in terms of organisational appointments. Top cabinet ministers such as P. Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma have been made spokespersons.

Although they have been designated “senior spokesperson”, the decision to rope in key government functionaries — including those handling core ministries such as finance, external affairs, commerce and health — indicates Rahul’s determination to take the next battle seriously.

Mukul Wasnik, a former party general secretary and minister who is an excellent orator in Hindi, will also be in the category of senior spokespersons.

The inclusion of Chidambaram, Khurshid, Sharma and Azad ensures there is no communication gap between the party and the government and that the achievements of UPA-II will be readily conveyed to the media. The senior leaders not only know the party in and out, they are also part of the decision-making process and will not need to be briefed on every issue.

Except Chidambaram, all can speak Hindi and English and have high political stature. The team of regular spokespersons also has been reinforced.

While the seasoned and senior-most spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi is back, another veteran Satyavrat Chaturvedi joins the team along with dynamic younger leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and great orators like Shashi Tharoor. Shakeel Ahmed, Randeep Surjewala, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, P.C. Chacko, Raj Babbar, Sandeep Dikshit and Shobha Ojha are the other spokespersons.

Sanjay Jha, who defended the Congress on television channels over the last few months, has also been made a regular spokesperson.

Gujarat leader Shaktisinh Gohil, the most strident critic of Narendra Modi, has been made spokesperson in an indication that the party would keep ammunition to hit the main challenger ready. Gohil thoroughly knows Modi, his politics and Gujarat realities and has never fought shy of making the harshest attack on him over the past few years.

With this team, which has some of the most articulate leaders and finest minds in Indian politics, the Congress expects to turn the tide in the perception battle. Rahul, who has often shown an inclination to rely on younger leaders, demonstrated remarkable maturity by giving equal importance to experience and stature. Chidambaram can tackle any situation. Sharma has been defending the Congress over several decades, having handled the media during the peak of Bofors scandal.

Many of them like Chidambaram, Singhvi and Khurshid, are veteran lawyers who can defend the government and the party against charges of omission and commission from a legal perspective.

The party has also released a list of 24 people who could participate in television debates and another list of 30 for state-related debates. These lists include most young leaders chosen from media workshops the party held some time ago. This group includes some very young boys and girls along with seasoned campaigners like Manish Tewari and Sanjay Nirupam.

Sources said the top ministers drafted to handle the media will not have to quit their governmental positions.

There are some omissions that have raised eyebrows. Janardan Dwivedi, who interacts with the media regularly, does not find a mention. Digvijaya Singh, whose presence is maximum in the media, has been excluded. It is not that general secretaries have not been included as Shakeel Ahmed is very much part of the team.

The exclusion of Kapil Sibal and Jairam Ramesh has also stirred curiosity.