The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Seal on Sonia, all eyes on son

New Delhi, May 28: Sonia Gandhi was unanimously re-elected Congress president today, in an affirmation of her unassailable position in the party if affirmation was needed.

After Sonia led the Congress back to power last May and then declined to become Prime Minister, her dominance has been unquestioned. That no one would challenge her claim to the president’s post was a foregone conclusion.

When the party’s central election authority chairman, Oscar Fernandes, today presented Sonia with a certificate declaring her “duly elected unopposed president of the Indian National Congress” for another three-year term, he was merely confirming his leader’s unquestioned stature.

It has taken seven years and many challenges for Sonia to earn her present status. She had wanted her entry to have unanimous support when Congress Working Committee members approached her to take over from Sitaram Kesri in March 1998. Sonia assumed the leadership but there were doubts about unanimity in the party.

A year later, in May 1999, as she was about to lead the party into a tough Lok Sabha election, three of her CWC colleagues ' Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar ' rebelled against her leadership and broke away from the Congress.

Eighteen months later, in her first party election, Sonia faced a challenge from CWC colleague Jitendra Prasada, who eventually lost miserably.

These challenges came when the party was floundering in political wilderness.

Sonia was cautious today as she thanked the rank and file over her unanimous re-election.

Making an appearance at the party headquarters on 24 Akbar Road, next door to her 10 Janpath residence, she said her objective would be to make the party stronger.

“I want to assure you that I will work with you day and night and put all my efforts to make the Congress stronger than ever,” Sonia said.

“Our work has brought us to the Centre. But we should not sit down satisfied because of this. We have to become more active than before,” she told top party functionaries and Union ministers who had gathered for the formal announcement of her re-election.

While Sonia’s new term as party chief will commence only at the Congress plenary session that has to be held soon as mandated by the party constitution, she is confronted with the immediate task of revamping the All-India Congress Committee.

This time, she might have to take a decision on inducting son Rahul into the AICC. Demands from the party for his entry have intensified during the organisational polls.

Sonia had recently stressed the urgent need for revamp in states like Bihar, Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

The Congress president might link the shuffle to changes in the Manmohan Singh ministry that are expected soon.

Some Congress units, for want of unanimity, have authorised Sonia to pick their presidents and other office-bearers. Some of these changes cannot wait in view of the Assembly polls scheduled next year.

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