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Rahul returns to back bench

- In parliament, cong scion keeps low profile

New Delhi, Feb. 21: Congress leaders who were worried about Sonia Gandhi retreating into a shell after son Rahul’s recent appointment as party vice-president would have been reassured after seeing her in Parliament today.

Sonia was the centre of attraction, standing out as the supreme leader as Rahul stuck to his carefully chosen low profile, taking the back row in the Central Hall during the presidential address and choosing not to attend the Lok Sabha at all.

The Congress chief surprised many by actively engaging with MPs who flocked to her with grievances and requests instead of any other leader, including Rahul.

As the Lok Sabha assembled after the presidential speech in the Central Hall, Sonia had arrived much before the proceedings started, chatting with agriculture minister Sharad Pawar who shares her front row seat.

Ministers and MPs lined up to greet her. While some touched her feet and walked away, others explained to her their problems, inaudible from the media gallery.

She entertained some, turned away a few and even directed ministers concerned to look into a few cases.

Even BJP veteran L.K. Advani walked up to her and asked about her health. She stood up with folded hands and muttered something. Leaders from other parties also greeted her.

Rahul left Parliament after the presidential speech. There were requests to take the front row seat in the Lok Sabha but he apparently declined.

Sources in the party confirmed that he would focus on the Congress organisation and avoid upgrading his role in Parliament for the time being.

Outside Parliament, Rahul told reporters in an informal chat that there was “tremendous talent” in the Congress organisation. “I am meeting all the people. Checking from them what they are feeling. I am talking to them. I am trying to understand what they would like. I am quite excited about it,” he said.

Asked about the changes he planned to make in the organisation, he said: “As I am speaking to all the people in the Congress party, I am finding a tremendous talent there. And it is just a question of aligning it and getting on with it. I am just familiarising myself a little bit.”

While there is a lot of expectation from Rahul among ordinary Congress workers, some senior leaders who have been part of the high command structure for long are jittery. They suspect Rahul would discard them for younger leaders and hence want Sonia, with whom they enjoy a better rapport, to continue playing an active role in organisational matters.

Many of these leaders felt that Sonia had withdrawn herself after Rahul’s rise, an apprehension they often voiced in the recent past. Most Congress leaders believe Sonia remains the party’s most valuable political asset.

Sonia had indeed been out of the picture after the Jaipur Chintan Shivir as Rahul took control and started his interactions with office-bearers throughout the country.

Her scheduled public appearances for the Tripura elections and at Aligarh Muslim University had to be cancelled because of bad weather, although she did campaign in Meghalaya and went to Maharashtra to inaugurate a health scheme.

But she has drastically curtailed her daily interactions with party leaders, creating worries among the entrenched forces, particularly those who do not have any axis with Rahul.