Strategy guru with a wide network – why Jairam Ramesh was appointed Congress Communications Officer

New Delhi: On Thursday, the Congress party entrusted one of its most seasoned players, former labor minister Jairam Ramesh, with the responsibility of reforming a department long seen as the party’s Achilles’ heel.

He has been appointed Corporate Secretary in charge of Communications, Publicity and Media, including digital and social media – the latter being an addition to his responsibilities to those carried out by his predecessor in the post, Randeep Surjewala.

An engineer by training, an economist by interest and a “political wok” (a term used by his colleagues to describe Ramesh) by profession, Ramesh is known to be a tech-savvy man who is “in tune with the times” and carries his spirit on his sleeve.

While the social media department may have been placed under Ramesh as part of the party’s renewed structure for its communication systems, if Ramesh’s own tweets are anything to go by, it wouldn’t be a mistake. waiting for an ironic fireworks display.

Case in point: In January this year, when Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, a member of the G-23 splinter group in Congress, was presented with a Padma award by the Modi government, Jairam posted a tweet subtly blaming him for a pun on his name. “Good thing to do. He wants to be Azad and not Ghulam,” Ramesh had said.

Since then, as Azad appears to be on the path to reconciliation with the party, Ramesh has been given important roles like being a member of the party’s task force for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Ramesh’s experience as a regular columnist and author of several books should help him navigate a media landscape the party says has become incredibly hostile to Congress.

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Wide connection in vernacular and English media

Ramesh’s colleagues in the party say his vast networks across the country, among politicians, civil society and especially for the job, in the vernacular and English media, make him a good choice to manage the communications department. .

Additionally, his strict discipline with his team, as well as his ability to bring even the most antagonistic groups within the party to the discussion table, would also be an advantage.

“He has an incredible ability to bring these people together around a table that you would never expect to see together. And once he’s done that, he can also mediate between them, to find the lowest denominator. common and work with that,” said a congressional official who worked under Ramesh.

A senior executive who claims to have known Ramesh “from his time working at AICC” said his strategic contributions have always been appreciated by management. His skills as a draftsman also made him the party’s go-to person for all policy and position papers, bringing him closer to the Congress high command.

In fact, the Udaipur Nav Sankalp statement adopted during the recent Chintan Shivir was also authored by Ramesh, party sources said.

“His organizational and strategic contributions are always sought for all the major decisions of the party. In the 2004 elections, when the UPA first came to power, the congressional war room was led by Ramesh,” the senior leader quoted above said.

A second congressional official said that since this election the “war room rules of Congress” have always been relaxed for him.

“Whether he is officially in charge of the war room or not, the doors are always open for him and his contributions,” the official said.

A second senior MP, said Ramesh was an avid reader and one of the few people to have ‘read all the books in his own library’. He is also a music enthusiast, with a particular interest in Carnatic classical music.

“He’s someone who has a variety of interests and likes to read about a variety of topics. It is this quality of him, coupled with his upbringing, that makes him a politics buff,” the MP said.

Engineer and economist, with a keen interest in physics

Ramesh received his mechanical engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay in 1975, then from Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, where he obtained a master’s degree in public policy and public management. . He also started a doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but was unable to complete it due to family demands.

He worked briefly at the World Bank, before returning to India in 1979. He then began working in the policy space with government agencies, starting as an assistant to economist Lovraj Kumar in the Costs and Pricing Office industrial.

In a 2011 interview, Ramesh said he went to IIT not because he was particularly interested in engineering, but because his father asked him to. Over the years, it is the economy that has become for him a subject that interests him a lot. He also had a keen interest in physics.

“I read Paul Samuelson (Nobel Prize-winning economist) when I was 17. I found it very interesting; its presentation, background, issues like population, growth. That’s what made me think of economics, the big questions of life, rather than technical drawings and mathematical formulas,” Ramesh said in the interview.

He added: “I started with a great fascination for physics. I still have an interest in physics. I can’t read technical physics anymore, because obviously it’s impossible to follow. I keep an interest in science, but obviously I’m not a scientist. Many of these scientists are easier to converse with because they can’t bullshit you. »

After working with Kumar, Ramesh went on to work in the Energy Advisory Council, Planning Commission, Ministry of Industry and other central government departments, where he contributed as an economist and decision maker.

In the 1990s, he served as a Special Duty Officer (OSD) in Prime Minister VP Singh’s government, then as an OSD in Narsimha Rao’s PMO, and later in the Ministry of Finance under Minister Manmohan Singh .

Under Singh, he was part of the team that enacted India’s economic reforms in 1991. He then worked as an adviser to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission in 1992, was part of a special delegation sent in Jammu and Kashmir in 1993, and also an adviser to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram between 1996 and 1998. He was also part of a central government delegation to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999.

Between 2000 and 2002, he served in various state governments – under Karnataka Government Planning Council, Economic Advisory Council of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Governments and Rajasthan Government Development Council .

He served as Secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in 2004, when he was appointed Chairman of the Congress Poll Strategy Panel prior to the election of Lok Sabha. At the time, he was also Minister of State (MoS) for Energy, Trade and Industry – posts he resigned from before taking on the role of poll strategist for his party.

He was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2004 and has been elected to the Upper House several times since then. Currently, he is a member of Rajya Sabha of Karnataka. Ramesh, however, has never contested a public election – whether for Lok Sabha, the state assembly or any other elected body.

After the victory of the UPA in 2009, he was appointed Minister of Forests and Environment in the central government. One of his most important decisions as minister was to ban the use of bulls as show animals, which set a precedent for the banning of the Jallikatu festival in Tamil Nadu in 2016.

His tenure as minister saw much controversy.

In 2010, Ramesh, then environment minister, ordered an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal, a genetically modified form of the vegetable designed to resist the fruit and shoot borer, a kind of pest. At the time, he said India needed an independent biotechnology regulator and a transparent testing system to introduce transgenic crops.

Later, he also blamed his own government for not being able to form such a regulatory body.

In 2013, Ramesh, then Minister of Rural Affairs, clashed with the government of Odisha and Vedanta Aluminum (VAL), over bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills. Ramesh urged the two to “spare” the Niyamgiri Hills and mine bauxite elsewhere.

The Odisha government and VAL needed bauxite as feedstock for its Lanjigarh refinery. At the time, he said the new land acquisition bill gave tribals and farmers the right to reject or accept any project. He had previously refused government permission for the project.

The environment has always been an interest of Ramesh and he is currently part of an International Advisory Board (IAB), which provides strategic advice to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on environmentally sound technologies for countries. in development.

(Editing by Poulomi Banerjee)

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