The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soni out of sight, leaves face-saving to cronies

New Delhi, Dec. 22: The Ambika Soni-led clique in the AICC has gone on the defensive after last night’s abortive mass resignation bid to divert attention from the debate on poll reverses threatened to backfire.

Soni, the powerful general secretary who is being widely blamed for the drubbing in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, virtually went underground during the day, though AICC office-bearers — who are identified with her “camp” — attempted feeble justifications for the weekend drama.

“We thought we should resign from the working committee and as office-bearers to give an opportunity and free hand to Soniaji to revamp her team in view of the coming Lok Sabha elections,” said AICC general secretary Kamal Nath, one of the leaders identified with the Soni group. He said he had given his resignation letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi in person on Friday night.

Sources said Soni, Sonia’s political secretary Ahmad Patel, general secretary Mukul Wasnik and treasurer Motilal Vora, too, had given their resignations either the same night or the next day. Apparently, Patel called up working committee members to give the “news” and prompt them to join them. By Sunday afternoon, one prominent member of the Soni camp was confident that “everyone would fall in line” by evening.

It did not happen that way, though some more members joined the resignation rush.

Late in the evening, at least one general secretary, Mohsina Kidwai, and two senior working committee members, Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh, confronted Sonia. They wanted to know whether she had authorised her functionaries to seek the resignation of all working committee members. They also wanted to know why they should resign when they had no direct responsibility for managing the Assembly polls.

The Congress chief is believed to have told the angry elders that she had not asked for any resignations. This subsequently prompted her to authorise an official denial of any authorisation as also the rejection of all resignations she had received till late on Sunday night.

With the resignation move fizzling out, sources said Soni might be at the receiving end in the coming days. The five-member party panel headed by Pranab Mukherjee, which is going into the causes of the poll debacle, may at least in some way indict her in its report. Soni’s rivals, sources in the party said, may be waiting for a working committee discussion of the Mukherjee committee report, expected to be ready in a couple of days.

Congress chief spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy parried all queries about the Sunday drama. He pleaded ignorance when asked whether Patel had called up working committee members for their resignations on his own or at Sonia’s instance. But he strongly rejected suggestions that the whole incident was a drama enacted by the Soni camp to deflect attention.

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