| Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh at the news conference in Nainital on Sunday. (AP)
Nainital, Sept. 24: An unusually belligerent Sonia Gandhi today snatched a question thrown at Manmohan Singh to squash rumours of a move to appoint a deputy Prime Minister.
“There is not going to be a deputy Prime Minister and I am saying so categorically,” the Congress president said in a steely voice before the Prime Minister, sitting next to her, could reply.
Her message went out loud and clear to the who’s who of the Congress present here for the party’s chief ministers’ conference. Only one big leader was absent, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee. Away to attend the UN General Assembly, he missed the statement fresh from Sonia’s mouth, but would have known about it by the time this paper goes to bed.
As categorically dismissive as Sonia was of the speculation over a deputy to Singh, minutes later she stepped over the ball, letting it run to the Prime Minister, when it was asked of her if Shivraj Patil would remain home minister. Rumours about his being shifted to some other ministry have been in the air.
She said it was not the forum to respond to such a question. Handed the floor, Singh gave a clean chit to the beleaguered Patil. “I have full confidence in the home minister.”
At the conference, some chief ministers and party functionaries told Sonia that the home ministry needed to pull up its socks. Its critics feel the ministry has been found wanting in the face of a string of terror attacks, the latest being the one at Malegaon.
As Sonia made clear in the tone she brushed off the speculation about a deputy Prime Minister who was boss, the party chief lavished praise on Singh. Standing close to the half-way mark of the United Progressive Alliance government, looking smilingly at the Prime Minister, she said: “I am satisfied with the government.”
| Whatever movement has taken place in finding a solution to the Kashmir issue is owed considerably to the Kargil conflict
in his book to be released today
“We are now two-and-a-half years old. I do not think there is any thinking in terms of course correction. When you are in government there are always issues which you try to deal with and while you are doing it, other things crop up when you are forced to do it in a different manner. But that does not mean course correction.”
Yesterday, Sonia and Singh travelled together in a helicopter from Delhi to Haldwani and then by car to Nainital. Another meeting followed last night at Raj Bhavan. Sources said during these talks, they discussed appointment of governors pending for months and cabinet changes.
At the news conference, Singh said governors would be appointed “very soon”. He also said the vacancy in the external affairs ministry would be filled shortly, but there was no clear indication that the leadership had made up its mind.
It’s not often that Sonia addresses the media and when she does, it’s unlikely to get over without a question being asked about the future of son Rahul. She said he would be “active” in Uttar Pradesh where Assembly polls are due early next year.
“He will be active in Uttar Pradesh, perhaps before the election starts or even earlier. He has been going to UP.”
About her party’s budding relationship with the Trinamul Congress in Bengal, Sonia acknowledged that she had spoken to Mamata Banerjee, but said the conversation was not about her returning to the parent organisation.