The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress puts faith in politician Sonia

New Delhi, Oct. 29: Four-and-a-half years ago, they banked on hope. Now Congressmen thrive on confidence.

The inspiration has a lot to do with Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, say her party workers who feel that there has been a perceptible change in her style of functioning since the day she took over as AICC chief.

Sources say Kashmir and Cauvery have been Sonia’s twin successes where she demonstrated both statesmanship and the ability to push through her agenda.

Her move to direct Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna to release more water to Tamil Nadu was daring. Krishna and other party colleagues kept telling Sonia that such an “unpopular decision” would not go down well in a state where the Congress has a lot at stake. By comparison, they said, the party’s condition in Tamil Nadu would not help her to “encash” the goodwill gesture.

But Sonia was firm. She said that as a national party, it was vital to keep the “larger national interest” in mind and there was no point going into a confrontation with the Supreme Court. “We must respect such institutions instead of confronting them,” she told Krishna.

The Congress chief said she would campaign in Karnataka and own up responsibility for the decision. “Do not worry about the fallout. The people of Karnataka are mature,” Sonia said, adding that she had a “special bond” with the people of the state in view of her maiden entry into Parliament from Bellary.

Sonia also led from the front during the deliberations on Kashmir. At the first meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Kashmir, her opening remarks had such sobering impact on the members that none talked about the “inevitability” of the Congress forming the government. She was quick to withdraw people like Ahmad Patel and R.K. Dhawan from “Mission Kashmir” when she realised that party politics was getting “precedence” over larger issues.

Sonia’s decision to field Manmohan Singh and hectic consultations with P.V. Narasimha Rao and apolitical players changed the picture. She then summoned warhorse Arjun Singh, who encouraged her to take a “correct” decision. Arjun was of the view that the Congress must project itself as a “party with a difference” and send out a message that the leadership has a vision that goes beyond power politics.

Sources said Sonia’s stand on Kashmir and Cauvery has won her new admirers who feel their chief is now showing what she is capable of. “Earlier, we had faith and hope in her but now we have a lot of confidence in her ability to see beyond the advice given to her,” an AICC office-bearer said.

Many Congress leaders say Sonia’s “maturity” has come at the right time. The countdown to Assembly polls in 10 states by the end of next year has already begun. If she succeeds in winning and retaining more than half of these states, it would establish her supremacy beyond doubt.

Sceptics, however, believe that a more accurate picture of “Sonia the politician” would emerge after she steers the Congress through the Gujarat elections and the tangle in Uttar Pradesh.

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