Party mulling over year-end general elections

Union Cabinet Ministers Jairam Ramesh and C.P. Joshi are likely to be drafted for party work after the second half of the Parliament budget session, as the Congress gears up for the last stretch before the next general elections.

Party sources said Mr. Ramesh and Mr. Joshi — who hold the Rural Development and Road Transport portfolios — will, in all likelihood, be asked to quit government so that they can focus full time on party work, exchanging their offices in Krishi Bhawan and Transport Bhawan for the secluded “war room” — as it is known in party circles — on Gurdwara Rakabganj Road.

Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and MoS for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari, too will be asked to pitch in. They, however, would continue with their ministerial jobs, the sources said. If Mr. Sibal has long been a government spokesperson, Mr. Tewari’s transition from party spokesperson to minister has already seen him gaining greater prominence.

If Mr. Ramesh’s record as a spin doctor, party strategist and policy wonk, the sources say, make him an obvious choice for the War Room, Mr. Joshi’s proximity to Congress vice- president Rahul Gandhi is being seen as the reason for moving him to party work.

In the run-up to the 2004 general elections, Mr. Ramesh and Salman Khurshid (now External Affairs Minister) upgraded the decades-old slogan Congress ka haath, garib ke saath to the winning Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath from the then party’s Policy and Planning office located on 99, South Avenue.

The idea was to expand the party’s traditional constituency of the poor and the marginalised to include the middle class or the aam aadmi.

Mr. Ramesh has already coined yet another slogan for the next general election, a slogan linked to the Direct Benefits Transfer programme: Aapka paisa, aapke haath. The Congress hopes that DBT will do for it in 2014 what the farm loan waiver did for it in 2009.

This time, while the External Affairs Ministry will claim most of Mr Khurshid’s time and energy, he will occasionally be asked to pitch in with ideas for the elections, the party sources said.

Meanwhile, it is learnt, the Congress is also actively considering bringing the date of the general elections forward — to the end of this year, along with the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. For this, the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections, which will be announced on May 8, are crucial.

Of course, the names mentioned earlier do not represent the sum total of those who will be populating the War Room in the coming months. In November last, Mr. Gandhi was asked to head a five-man Election Co-ordination Committee (ECC) to “oversee all party activities related to the next elections.” Three sub-groups — on pre-poll alliances, the manifesto and government programmes, and communications and publicity — were also constituted at the time, in a follow-up to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s announcement at the Samvad Baithak at Surajkund, and her emphasis on the need for the party and the government “to work cohesively together to ensure that we secure a renewed mandate.”

Of the 27 persons drafted then for pre-election work, 11 were Central Ministers.

The other ECC members are Ms. Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, party general secretaries Janardan Dwivedi, Digvijay Singh and Madhusudan Mistry, and Mr Ramesh. Defence Minister A.K. Antony heads the sub-groups on pre-poll alliances and manifesto and government programmes, while Mr. Digvijay Singh heads the communications and publicity sub-group.

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