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Congress readies its ‘answer’ to BJP-linked think tank, eyes alternative

A former minister close to Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies will soon be developed as ‘the party’s answer to the Vivekananda Foundation’.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2018 09:10 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress,BJP,Vivekananda Foundation
Congress president Rahul Gandhi with former party president Sonia Gandhi ahead of the Congress Steering Committee Meeting at AICC in New Delhi, on February 17. (Mohd Zakir/HT Photo)

The Congress plans to revamp the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (RGICS) as a think tank focusing on social and economic issues that find a “close connection” with the party’s political and ideological line, according to senior party leaders familiar with the developments.

A former minister close to Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the RGICS will soon be developed as “the party’s answer to the Vivekananda Foundation” — a think tank ideologically affiliated with the BJP with which a number of key functionaries of the Narendra Modi government have been associated.

“The search is on for a new set of professionals and intellectuals who will steer the RGICS,” said the leader, who asked not to be named.

In what is seen as a first step of the revamp, G Mohan Gopal, who headed the institute since July 2011, has stepped down to pave way for a new team. Gopal was involved in preparing the Congress manifesto for the 2014 general election and was, at one time, considered an influential member of Rahul Gandhi’s team.

Gopal said he wants to “pursue an independent path” and revive his legal career to intervene in “social and democratic issues”.

“I want my independent voice outside the institution,” he added.

The plan to revamp the think tank, which is promoted by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and which regularly hosts events highlighting social, economic and political issues in contemporary India, is part of Rahul Gandhi’s effort to restructure the party organisation, another senior Congress leader said.

Two professionals who have recently been inducted in Gandhi’s core team — Praveen Chakravarty and K Raju — are likely to play key roles in RGICS, the leader added.

Chakravarty heads Congress’ Data Analytics Department while former IAS officer Raju is the new head of Gandhi’s core team.

The Congress has also formed a group headed by former finance minister P Chidambaram to study all the legislations passed under the Modi government. “The party gives a lot of importance to research, analysis and the plan to revamp the RGICS as a party think tank is also for the same reason. Think tanks are necessities in today’s political landscape,” said the former minister quoted above.

The Vivekananda International Foundation, ranked among the “best think tanks with a political party affiliation” globally in 2016 by the University of Pennsylvania, is headed by former deputy National Security Adviser Arvind Gupta. It focuses on issues related to international relations, defence, the economy and governance, and on Track 2 exchanges.

Among key government functionaries who have been associated with it before they took up their current roles are the principal secretary to the prime minister Nripendra Misra, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Delhi’s lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal.

First Published: Feb 20, 2018 07:47 IST