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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

Oxford scholar, Ivy leaguer, IAS officer in Team Rahul

Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 15, 2013
First Published: 01:18 IST(15/9/2013) | Last Updated: 09:50 IST(15/9/2013)

The media glare is squarely on the opposite camp, where the Narendra Modi juggernaut rolls on relentlessly. But at his bungalow in the Capital’s leafy Tughlaq Lane, a quiet but significant expansion of Rahul Gandhi’s core team is underway.

The new entrants, ranging from an Oxford scholar in his 20s to former bureaucrats and academicians, bring zero experience of electoral politics but are invariably tech-savvy experts in their fields and usually have a connection to the social sector so beloved of the Congress leadership.

Kaushal Vidyarthee has a DPhil from Oxford University and writes a blog replete with quotes from tech wizards like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But now most of his time is spent on something considerably more mundane: Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana, one of the Congress’ schemes for poverty reduction and women’s empowerment, named after Rahul’s father.

While Vidyarthee has emerged as a key backroom boy of Team Rahul Gandhi, and is the youngest entrant, some of the others bring considerably more experience.

Koppula Raju, a 1981 batch IAS officer, quit his job two months ago to join Rahul. Officially, he is chairman of the Congress cell on schedule castes but handles key assignments for his political boss.

The team regularly engages in brainstorming sessions with Rahul at his home and at the party’s war room at nearby Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Road.

This is the team that will stand behind Rahul as he takes on the formidable Modi machinery. Opinion polls have generally placed the reticent Gandhi scion a distant second to Modi in the response to the question: “Who is best suited to become PM?”, but his emerging imprint on the next elections, due in 2014, is undeniable.

In the 2009 polls, Rahul chose to play second fiddle to his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and her lieutenants. But now the 43-year-old, as vice-president of the party, is involved in every aspect of election engineering, and his team is gaining huge clout.

While warhorses like AK Antony, Ahmed Patel and Madhusudan Mistry continue to handle political management of the party, Rahul’s core team provides key inputs on policy measures, prepares background papers and briefs Congress spokespersons on issues.

So, when G Mohan Gopal -- MoGo to the rest of the team -- briefed party spokespersons on the land bill, not many were surprised. Gopal has a law degree from Harvard and was a former president of the Congress’ student wing. He is the director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies and a special invitee to the manifesto and government programmes sub-group of the Congress with a clear brief: Bridge the gap between political activism and policy initiatives.

Indeed, Rahul’s team is involved in the making of the party’s 2014 manifesto - a document that was earlier entirely handled by political bigwigs. Their growing clout in policy matters has led to some heartburn, especially among veterans who find their inputs vetted by these newcomers.

Sachin Rao, another key aide, also came from a social sector background. But Alankar Sawai, entrusted with preparing documents,background papers and handling social media, comes from the financial world, having worked with ICICI Bank in its credit card division. Sawai and Rao look after Youth Congress affairs and recently mooted the idea of internal elections at the YC’s district units.

K Raju, for his part, travels extensively as Rahul’s envoy to hold parleys with state unit leaders.

“He monitors some social sector programmes. His inputs are also sought at times on issues of minorities’ welfare”, said a party insider.

Top party sources added that more young turks are expected to join Team Rahul in the next few months as its activities are only going to increase in the run-up to the polls. But it has not diminished the role of old hands like Kanishka Singh, who continues to handle Rahul’s appointments and tour programmes.


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