The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Too many Cong cooks spoil boss’s broth

New Delhi, Sept. 7: Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s “democratic process” of decision-making is proving counter-productive for the party.

In the last few months, the party has failed to capitalise on serious charges of corruption and scams as well as infighting in the BJP and the NDA because of sharp differences among Sonia’s advisers and the Congress’ inability to get into dynamic Opposition-party mode.

On virtually all major issues — Gujarat, the anti-terror law, divestment, electoral reforms, corruption and criminalisation of politics to alliances, there has been a lack of a focused approach.

Congress sources say Sonia has tried to hammer out a clear line of thinking on vexed issues. However, often one set of her advisers and AICC functionaries have favoured a particular view and another group an opposite one. This has often forced Sonia to go soft or, at least, made her seem caught in a dilemma.

Sources at 10 Janpath said it had to do with Sonia’s style of functioning, which is based on exhaustive discussions and deliberations. But in reality, the problem is that Congress leaders vie to outshine one another in her presence.

If the pro-reforms lobby, comprising Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Jairam Ramesh, Murli Deora and Shivraj Patil, makes a strong case for disinvestment, the group led by Vayalar Ravi, A.K. Antony, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and others makes sure that the leadership does not give in.

“It amounts to sending wrong signals to captains of industry. Why should they support us if we block everything aimed at restructuring economy'” asked an AICC official.

There is a department of economic affairs at 24 Akbar Road, which houses the party headquarters. But it has been months since chairman Manmohan Singh has visited office. For many weeks, there has been no meeting of the group of experts on economic matters, expected to give crucial inputs on all policy matters.

The fate of the foreign affairs department is no different. Foreign policy experts have not met for weeks, forcing Sonia to consult K. Natwar Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Salman Khurshid, R.L. Bhatia and others on an “ad hoc basis”. Sonia has also begun to rely on apolitical experts for critical inputs on foreign policy matters.

The Congress’ cell for farmers, human rights, minorities and other departments and have not been active for months.

To cap it all, the legal fraternity in the party is constantly at loggerheads. There are many experts — Kapil Sibal, Ashwini Kumar, Salman Khurshid, Abhishek Singhvi, H.R. Bhardwaj, P. Shiv Shankar, Anand Sharma and Sibtey Razi. But seldom do they agree on a particular issue.

While Sibal bitterly opposed the “draconian” anti-terror law, some legal experts supported it on grounds that the Congress should back it for “national security considerations”.

The AICC’s media department is in disarray. There are five spokespersons but the party holds briefings only three days a week. The party chose to react to ADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s tirade against Sonia after 48-hours. On two occasions, party spokesmen promised to give “evidences” of the BJP regime’s wrongdoings on the petrol pump and land scams, but failed to live up to their promises.

It has been six months since Sonia appointed two political secretaries — Ahmad Patel and Ambika Soni. But there is no division of work between them. Ahmad does not even have an office at 24, Akbar Road.

As leader of Opposition, Sonia is expected to stay in touch with leaders of other non-NDA parties. But there is no institutionalised mechanism. Sometimes, Sonia herself calls up, some times some junior leaders are sent as Sonia’s emissaries and often Opposition leaders feel slighted when no one from her party contacts them on matters of national importance.

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