The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Knives out in Cong for Young Turk troika

New Delhi, Dec. 15: Sonia Gandhi has a problem in hand. Minutes after the Gujarat verdict, knives were out in the Congress over the party’s strategy to blatantly focus on majority votes during the Assembly polls.

There is no threat to Sonia’s leadership or her unassailable position within the party as the barbs are mainly targeted at the troika of Young Turks — Kamal Nath, Ambika Soni and Ahmad Patel — who were key in formulating the strategy. But if the party suffers losses in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Tripura and others, Sonia’s authority might be threatened.

For the time being, senior party leaders are complaining not about the “soft Hindutva” plank but the Congress’ conscious efforts to sideline minorities before and during the polls. The Congress would have to seriously ponder over its strategy even if it had won the elections, they said. “We were brought up to follow the Gandhian maxim that means should justify the ends but what happened in Gandhi’s land was completely the opposite,” a Congress Working Committee (CWC) member rued.

The “chargesheet” is long — it also refers to Sonia’s refusal to publicly greet Muslims on Id. What has upset some Congress leaders the most is that they were specifically asked not to hold election meetings. When a senior leader like Arjun Singh wanted to address the local press, he was “requested” to avoid it.

The fate of Ghulam Nabi Azad was no better. Until recently considered a “hero” following the Congress’ excellent performance in Jammu and Kashmir, Azad was kept out of the campaign. In fact, he was “asked” not to visit Gujarat even though he had packed his bags and was ready to catch a flight.

Congressmen were initially reluctant to go public with their grievances because they believe the measures adopted in Gujarat must have had Sonia’s approval in the guise of “pragmatism”. But with the party receiving such a drubbing, some of them plan to write letters drawing “madam’s attention”.

Presenting the other side of the picture, those responsible for the Congress strategy said there was little or no use inviting senior leaders who did not belong to Gujarat. “It would have been a burden to make bandobast for them, including pulling crowds. The elections were too crucial to indulge in such extravaganza,” a highly-placed source said.

On giving just four seats to Muslims in the state, party functionaries said it was a “painful decision”, but once again, “ground realities” prompted them.

However, the mood in the Congress camp seems to have undergone a change in the last few hours. CWC members want Sonia to “go back to the basics” and pick up the threads from Panchmarhi.

All eyes are on organisational changes that Sonia has been planning for some time. It remains to be seen if she will retain Patel and Soni. Waiting in the wings are Arjun Singh, Azad, M.L. Fotedar, Murli Deora and R.K. Dhawan who want to be part of the inner coterie.

There is also a question mark over the fate of the chief ministers of Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Sonia is not too happy with the report cards of Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Gehlot.

The spotlight is more on Gehlot as Rajasthan will be going to elections next year and according to an internal feedback, the party may not be able to retain the state under him.

Although Maharashtra is a traditional stronghold of the Congress, Deshmukh is perceived as a “weak chief minister”.

The fate of Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi hangs in balance, too, as much would depend on his health. Informed sources, however, said Sonia was not keen to replace Gogoi unless he is too ill to discharge normal duties.

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