NEW DELHI: "Rahul Gandhi is de facto Congress chief but he should become de jure" and make the party battle ready without waiting for anti-incumbency to build up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior party leader Jairam Ramesh said today.
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Ramesh also said it was high time that the Congress changed in tune with changing India as "our communication strategy is not very effective" and "we need an aggressive outreach" with various sections of society against the backdrop of successive poll debacles.
"Challenges are very heavy but there is no room for despondency. Those who are writing off Congress party are writing its premature obituary," the former Union Minister told PTI, apparently referring to Modi's repeated calls for a "Congress-mukt Bharat".
Making a strong pitch for Gandhi's leadership, Ramesh said "uncertainty does not help". He said the challenges faced by Congress were akin to those that prevailed when Sonia Gandhi had taken over the party in March 1998.
Ramesh insisted that the Congress vice president has "a lot of ideas on organisational restructuring and I hope he gets into position very soon. He is de facto, but he should become de jure".
Noting that Congress presidentship has its own institutional importance, Ramesh said Rahul Gandhi should take charge "as soon as possible".
"He has got a clear concept of strategy. He knows people he wants to bring. One thing should be clear that when Rahul Gandhi takes over, a team takes over. When? that is the big question," he said.
He recalled that when Sonia Gandhi took over as party chief, Congress had only two states with it. Digvijay Singh was the Chief Minister of MP and Giridhar Gamang of Odisha.
But at that time the Congress' strength in the Lok Sabha was 140.
Ramesh said, for the first time, the party was very weak in the Lok Sabha, had reduced strength in the Rajya Sabha and was in power in very few states. "It is a difficult situation," he said.
Ramesh's strong pitch for Rahul's elevation has come at a time when opinion appears to be divided in the organisation on the timing of his taking over.
Punjab PCC Chief Amarinder Singh had made a pitch for Rahul's elevation saying that Sonia is now approaching 70 and her deputy can get into her shoes if she was feeling tired. Senior leader Ambika Soni, however, said Sonia was working tirelessly and should continue, a view shared by another party leader Kamal Nath.
Sonia Gandhi holds a record of sorts by being at the helm for over 18 years in the 130-year-old organisation. Rahul Gandhi was made the party vice president in January 2013 at the Jaipur 'chintan shivir'.
A former Union Environment and Rural Development Minister, Ramesh has been pitching for long for Rahul to take over the reins.
Ramesh saw no wrong in National Conference leader Omar Abdullah's recent tweet on the issue of Rahul's elevation. "Isn't the Congress fed up of planting Rahul's imminent elevation stories? Been reading them for years now. Just do it & let him get on," Omar had said.
Ramesh said the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister is a well-wisher of the Congress party and his tweet "reflected the sentiments of the well wisher".
Asked about his ideas for turnaround of the party, the 62-year-old Congress leader said India is changing and Congress has to reflect that change.
"One of the big areas of change has to be communication. Our communication strategy has not been very effective. We have to understand technological changes that are taking place. Three Cs - clear, consistent and credible. Messages must to be consistent and clear," Ramesh said.
Besides, Congress needs to have a "far more aggressive outreach", he said.
"Congress is a 130-year-old organisation and it needs to emphasise why it needs to be voted and supported in this time and age. We need to tell people what is the difference between Congress and BJP. This communication outreach has to be made to various sections of society like students, doctors, teachers," Ramesh said.
He also stressed that Congress has to be more decentralised as Rahul Gandhi has been saying for a long time.
"More decentralisation means the PCC chiefs and the DCC Chiefs will have more powers. Rahul Gandhi is harping on the need to empower people. We cannot be a centralised outfit," Ramesh added.