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Rahul dislikes backseat driving, best suited to be Cong’s ‘ideological compass’: Jairam Ramesh

Rahul Gandhi does not like backseat driving or asserting his authority and his greatest value going forward will be to play the role of an “ideological compass” for the congress, senior leader Jairam Ramesh said on Wednesday.

A week after Mallikarjun Kharge, the first non-Gandhi president in more than 24 years, took charge of the party, Ramesh said some people are calling Gandhi the elephant in the room, but his response is that the former party leader is actually a ” tiger on the road”.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, Ramesh told PTI, has been a “real booster dose” to the party’s public relationship and its “two Cs” – connectivity for Gandhi and collectivity for the organization.

“The most tangible impact is on the conference organization. Congressional morale is now at an extraordinarily high level. Whether this will translate into long-term public support now depends on the organization,” said the senior leader.

Ramesh, who also walks in the Yatra, quoted thinker and philosopher Albert Camus to describe Gandhi’s leadership style: “Don’t walk after me; I can’t lead. Don’t walk ahead of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me.” “I’ve known Mr Gandhi for 18 years, and I know him pretty well. He doesn’t like driving in the back seat, he doesn’t like to assert his position or authority, he’s a very democratic person,” Ramesh said. .

The journey the party has undertaken has had a transformative impact in terms of perceptions of Gandhi being “very heavily distorted” by the “BJP trolling machine,” he said in an interview with PTI at the Yatra here.

For him personally at age 68 and for the party organization, the Yatra is the “last roll of the dice” and a “huge gamble,” Ramesh said.

When asked what role Gandhi would play if Kharge takes over the reins of the party, the congress secretary-general in charge of communications said it is up to Kharge and Gandhi to decide.

“Speaking as a congressman, office holder, MP, I think Mr Rahul Gandhi’s greatest value will be to play the role of ideological compass for the party,” he said.

Each side needs an ideological compass or a moral compass, and Rahul Gandhi is ideally suited for that role, Ramesh argued.

“Whether he plays that role or not is entirely between him and Mr. Kharge. I can only speak for myself. I think his comparative advantage lies in playing the role of ideological or moral compass, something like the role that the Mr PN Haksar (Former Chief Secretary to Prime Minister) played opposite Ms Indira Gandhi from 1967-73,” he said.

“Of course Mr Haksar was a man in the back room while Mr Gandhi is very much a person in the front room,” he added.

Discussing the Yatra, which began in Kanyakumari on September 7, Ramesh said that what it has done very visibly is re-energising the congress organization, whether in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh or Telangana.

“…The Bharat Jodo Yatra, I wouldn’t say it opened an opportunity, it opened a door of opportunity.” The Congress and Gandhi story has transformed, it is no longer a negative defamation story, the senior congressional leader said.

It’s a story that recognizes that this is quite a unique attempt at mass contact, Ramesh said.

Asked if Gandhi was a revelation during the Yatra, Ramesh said, “I would not say a revelation, it is a revelation to the people who slandered him, who brought him down. It is the real person who travels 22 km every day. So it’s not a new Rahul, it’s the real Rahul that came out.” There had been a campaign since 2009 — when Congress returned with an increased majority — to damage, slander, slander and defame him and also the Congress party, he said.

“The election defeat in 2014 and 2019, I don’t think he is to blame (Gandhi). The defeat certainly affected his public personality and the fact that he also lost to Amethi.

“What this Yatra has done is it has given Rahul Gandhi a chance to have a direct connection with the people without the media. He doesn’t have a spinning machine around him, he walks 22-23 km every day and meets thousands of people and has contact with different organizations.” There is no doubt that post-Bharat Jodo Yatra Rahul Gandhi would be viewed dramatically differently both within the organization and beyond, Ramesh said.

“What I find interesting is that overall, nine out of ten critics who slandered Gandhi have changed their mind or have kept their mouths shut.” He rejected suggestions that the congress was only focused on the Yatra and not the upcoming election polls, saying the party organization was present and while Ashok Gehlot was in charge in Gujarat, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra did so in Himachal Pradesh.

If Rahul Gandhi is called up to campaign, he would take a few days off and go for the campaign, he added.

Ramesh also rejected claims that Congress is strong in the south and weak in the north.

Congress is now going through “Yatra-itis” after the Covid pandemic, he said, citing the main Yatra and sub-Yatras being held in several states.

Asked about the long-term impact the Yatra would have, Ramesh said it depends on the organization and the kind of changes AICC chief Kharge and his team can make.

“It’s not a magic wand, like I said, it’s a booster dose. We need booster doses from time to time. I think this is the first really meaningful booster dose after a long time,” he said.

As to whether the party was heading for a revival ahead of the 2024 general election, Ramesh said he would be very cautious as he believed in Narayana Murthy’s management model, which is under promise and exceedingly.

“I’m not going to take a giant leap and say that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a metamorphosis for 2024, it’s a long haul, we have a lot of deep challenges to face, it’s an opportunity that has been opened,” he said .

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