The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Worried Cong weighs options

New Delhi, Sept. 2: The Congress has been forced to revise its strategy following ADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s second outburst against Sonia Gandhi on her foreign origins.

Sonia’s managers held a long damage-limitation exercise session today where a majority view emerged that it was futile to join issue with Jayalalithaa. Sonia’s spin doctors chipped in saying the focus on her foreign origins was adversely affecting the AICC chief’s standing in the political arena. The spin doctors said Jaya’s orchestrated campaign was, in fact, helping Sonia’s detractors to bring a “dead issue” (read Sonia’s foreign origins) to the political centrestage.

Stung by Jaya’s second outburst against Sonia, the Congress subsequently changed track saying Jaya’s tirade was not even worth commenting upon. “We cannot sink to her level and lend dignity to her intemperate and cheap remarks,” said AICC spokesman Anand Sharma.

At another level, some Congress leaders suggested that the party should use some “backroom channels” to stop Jaya from attacking Sonia. These leaders said the Congress should avail the services of some retired bureaucrats, industrial houses and other “well-meaning persons” to buy “truce” with Jaya so that the ADMK chief would no longer focus on the foreign origins issue. These leaders said the political differences should not be allowed to cross the “limits of decency”.

A section of the Congress leaders said Sonia’s foreign origin was proving to be trickier than expected. “After a Supreme Court ruling, we had thought it is a dead issue. But every time it gets highlighted, we get more worried about its fallout within the Congress than outside,” a senior party leader said, acknowledging that in urban India, Sonia’s past was still an issue for the middle class.

According to the Congress’ assessment, there is a “larger gameplan” behind Jaya’s intemperate outbursts. Firstly, Jaya seemed determined to cement her leanings towards the BJP. At another level, Congress leaders said Jaya was plotting to bring regional parties like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam Party and others against the Congress.

“The larger gameplan is to prevent the Congress from getting a decisive mandate in the next round of general elections, keep Sonia out of the race for prime ministership and subsequently split the Congress to work out a United Front-like experiment,” said a senior Congress leader.

Sharma asked Jaya to “mind her own business”, saying the ADMK chief was betraying her desperation and had become the voice of her “ill-concealed masters.” He wondered how many people had contributed to her script. Sharma did not name Sharad Pawar but dropped enough hints that the NCP chief and Jaya were acting in tandem.

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