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Sonia Shimla strategy

New Delhi, June 19: Sonia Gandhi appears to be introducing an element of competition in the Congress. Senior party coll-eagues, who had so far not noticed this, are now picking up hints from the way she is preparing for next month’s brainstorming in Shimla.

The Congress president has brought in new faces to prepare papers on key political, economic, social and party organisation issues for deliberations at the three-day session.

The message being sent out is that she will not just go by reputation or seniority when allotting individuals jobs.

Arjun Singh perhaps assumed he was senior enough to continue as one of Sonia’s key political advisers. This, coupled with his non-inclusion in the decision-making process, appears to have made Arjun sound a discordant note. His remarks that groupism was affecting the party were not to Sonia’s liking and she made this clear at the Srinagar conclave.

But Arjun is back in the limelight. Sonia has asked him to head a seven-member panel to prepare a paper on political challenges facing the party, such as whether to enter coalitions, ahead of the Lok Sabha election.

The veteran leader did the same job during the Panchmarhi session five years ago. But none of the six members on the panel, including Ambika Soni, shares his views on a number of issues. They are certain to project differing views and Arjun will have to prove his leadership with ideas, not hope to settle issues by virtue of his seniority.

Natwar Singh, who is also on the panel, is in a similar situation. The committee has been asked to spell out the Congress’ foreign policy and Natwar, a former IFS officer, has been heading the AICC foreign affairs department for over five years.

He has almost taken his position as the sole spokesman on foreign policy matters for granted. But Natwar has found he will have to contend with two other former IFS officers — Mani Shankar Aiyar and J.. Dixit — while formulating the party position.

Dixit, recently appointed the Congress chief adviser on security and strategic affairs, represents a competing, divergent view on foreign policy. His inclusion is an acknowledgement that Sonia has begun to value his advice. This happened when Sonia consulted Dixit over sending troops to Iraq.

Sonia has sprung another surprise by asking former Karnataka chief minister M. Veerappa Moily to head another seven-member panel which will prepare a paper on social empowerment. The broad themes cover Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women.

Central leaders like P. Shiv Shankar and G. Venkataswamy have been trying to emerge as the party’s OBC face. But Sonia has quietly introduced Moily, who has been active only in his home state, into the national hierarchy.

The party chief has set up five different panels to prepare papers for the brainstorming session. The papers will be vetted by a panel headed by Pranab Mukherjee.

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