| Sonia at 10 Janpath on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 31: When Sonia Gandhi gave journalists a thumbs up as her car rolled out of the Prime Minister’s house after yesterday’s UPA-Left meeting, it captured the essence of her brand of politics.
Sonia’s politics means say little or nothing publicly, keep everyone guessing on whether the Congress has a strategy against the Left, unfold the counter-plan in bits and pieces and execute it quietly through a team of advisers.
Pranab Mukherjee, the Congress’s chief interlocutor on the nuclear deal, was picked by Sonia for his comfort level with the Left, his political understanding and his proven skill in articulating positions and drafting statements. Ahmed Patel was chosen because Sonia has faith in him as her political secretary. A.K. Antony is trusted on all counts.
Those who tracked the developments on the nuclear deal as well as the ups and downs that the government and the Congress went through for much of August knew Sonia had laid out ground rules without spelling them in so many words and without overplaying her hand.
The party would back the Prime Minister because in her own words, uttered in May 2004, the country was in the “safe hands of Dr Manmohan Singh”;
The party would support the deal but she recognised the inevitability of “differences of views” in a democracy (Congress parliamentary party speech on August 14) which “informed” debates and discussions could resolve;
Therefore, she was not willing to shut the door on the Left. The clearest indication of her “line” was conveyed on August 21, a day before she left for South Africa. She told senior leaders that the anti-Left pitch should not be ratcheted up and their language must be conciliatory. She mandated Mukherjee to start discussions within the parameters of the Congress’s stated stand on the deal;
Any decision, whether it was recommending Parliament’s dissolution and going in for snap polls or buying peace with the Left, must be endorsed by the UPA allies because the Congress will fight the next election as part of the existing coalition;
She and the Prime Minister will step in if and when a settlement was operationalised.
Sources said Sonia did not want a permanent rupture with the Left because she figured out whether elections took place mid-way through the 14th Lok Sabha or on schedule, the outcome wouldn’t be vastly different from the one in 2004.
The Congress will gain, but not enough to get close to a majority. This meant either keeping the allies with her, dumping those who she found inexpedient and looking for newer ones. After a cost-benefit analysis of the Left versus the BSP, the Congress concluded that the former, despite its ideological and other baggage, was more “dependable” than the maverick BSP.