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The going getting tough, Sonia gets going

New Delhi, April 17: Staring at defeat, the Grand Old Party is showing some signs of resilience.

Sonia Gandhi is marshalling all her resources to keep the Congress in the hunt. She has directed party general secretaries and state unit heads to invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address more public meetings and interact with the media.

Singh has so far addressed only four rallies, in Assam and Kerala. In 2009, after having forced through the Indo-US nuclear deal, he had had a packed schedule because the demand for the Prime Minister as campaigner was next only to that for Sonia and Rahul.

Sources said Singh would now visit Telangana, Maharashtra and possibly Uttar Pradesh. He is expected to go to Hyderabad on April 24.

Sonia’s decision to accord him primacy in the campaign came after Singh’s former media adviser Sanjaya Baru’s book claimed the Prime Minister lacked political authority. On Tuesday, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had described Singh as “Super Prime Minister”.

Sources said Sonia has also begun to receive daily feedback from the Congress “war room” at 15 Gurdwara Raqabgunj Road, which had become redundant after Rahul opened another at his Tughlaq Lane residence.

The Congress president is also dealing with members of Team Rahul frequently. Until now, Rahul alone was in charge.

On Monday, Sonia hit the airwaves at prime time to project this election as a battle to save the “heart and soul” of India. Party sources said there was unanimity among Congress spin doctors and office-bearers that Sonia, not Rahul, should address the nation.

While the party is going all out to shore up every possible seat, it is also preparing for a damage-control exercise that may be necessary after the results are declared on May 16.

Sonia and her close advisers are against blaming a defeat on Singh, who was the Congress president’s choice for Prime Minister. The sources said Rahul could be next in the line of a whisper campaign within the party.

Priyanka’s role is seen as crucial. The average Congress worker will not look beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family, which led them to back-to-back wins in 2004 and 2009, so a rebellion is unlikely.

In any case, there are few in the party who can match the popularity of Sonia and Rahul. So, the “draft Priyanka” campaign is set to be become shrill after May 16.

The Congress old guard can be heard talking about one young Gandhi taking charge of the parliamentary wing and the other of the organisation. The examples of Parkash Singh Badal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, M. Karunanidhi, Ajit Singh and even the Bhuttos are cited.

Congress veterans say that if Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister, they would mount fresh pressure on Priyanka to join active politics and protect the idea of India as envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Priyanka has provided no hints on how she would react to such a proposal.