| Sonia at Mount Abu. (PTI)
Mount Abu, Nov. 9: Armed with an iron grip over the party and a good governance plank in 14 Congress-ruled states, Sonia Gandhi today virtually projected herself as the next Prime Minister but added that she and her party would have to work hard to achieve that goal.
At a news conference to mark the end of a two-day conclave of Congress chief ministers at this hill resort, Sonia said she was satisfied with the performance of states ruled by the party.
“There is still time and we need to work more,” Sonia said, when asked how close she was to becoming the next Prime Minister.
The Congress president did not rule out the possibility of son Rahul or daughter Priyanka joining the family profession. “They are grown-up persons and capable of making such decisions. I decided myself and my husband Rajiv Gandhi had done the same,” she said, speaking in a confident and measured voice.
Sonia’s move not to avoid a reply on her prime ministerial aspirations evoked considerable interest in Congress circles. Some chief ministers present at the news conference attributed it to her growing confidence.
“We never had a doubt about it but today she cleared whatever doubt existed in the minds of others,” a chief minister from a north Indian state said. Others pointed out that Sonia could have said it was up to the people of India or the Congress MPs to decide, but the fact that she chose not to do so signified that she was aspiring for her “legitimate” role.
Sonia accused Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of playing “politics” and discriminating against Congress-ruled states on Central assistance. “Andhra Pradesh and Punjab were getting generous aid but when we came to power in Punjab, things changed,” she said.
On disinvestment, the Congress president appeared unsure. She first said that on principle, the party was opposed to the sale of profit-making public sector undertakings. But asked about the Punjab government’s decision to sell five profit-making PSUs, she said: “I am not sure. Either you are right or I am right. We need to check that from the chief minister of Punjab.”
Yesterday, Amarinder Singh had publicly defended his government’s move to divest some state-run PSUs.
On alliances, Sonia repeated the Panchmarhi line that whenever required, the party would consider aligning with like-minded parties. She, however, asserted the primacy of the Congress in national politics.
In Uttar Pradesh, her party would not allow horse-trading and toppling of an elected government, Sonia said. Her statement is another setback to Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav who has been desperately seeking Congress support to oust Mayavati.
The AICC chief seemed in no hurry to pronounce the downfall of the Vajpayee regime. She appeared inclined to the view that the party would come to power after the BJP-led coalition ends its tenure in 2004. Till then, the strategy is to consolidate and wrest as many states as possible from the BJP and NDA allies and project her as next in line for the country’s top job.
The two-day discussions among chief ministers of the Congress-ruled states and experts saw many fresh ideas coming up. For instance, the session of national security had former Intelligence Bureau chief M.K. Narayanan making a lucid presentation on security scenario in the North-east and Kashmir. Narayanan repeatedly told Congress chief ministers to address genuine economic and political aspirations of the “misguided” persons in troubled spots instead of treating these problems as simple law and order issues.
Narayanan also emphasised the fallout of economic reforms, saying care should be taken of all those “missing out” the benefits of reforms.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi made a telling comment about his state saying that it was richest in resources but had the poorest of the poor. The next session of Congress chief ministers will be held at Bastar in Chhattisgarh.