The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Edgy Sonia flock waits for weekend

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Sonia Gandhi’s crisis managers are eagerly waiting for Friday. It is not for some particular reason except that the winter session of Parliament will come to an end.

The signs of nervousness were evident from the fact that yesterday at a high-level meeting at 10 Janpath, they even feared early Lok Sabha polls.

A senior party leader toyed with the idea of the party warming up to the idea of coalitions but he found himself to be a minority. But a section of the Congress emphasised that the party must start looking beyond its “ekla chalo re” policy. This school of thought wants Sonia to experiment a tie-up with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh to counter the BJP-BSP alliance.

Sonia camp’s anxiety is not without a reason. Two days after the Gujarat verdict, the unease among the Congress MPs is increasing. Huddled in small groups, the party MPs are constantly discussing Gujarat and its likely impact on coming the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chattishgarh and other states.

What is perhaps more disturbing for Sonia is that party MPs are unsure about her ability to effectively counter the post-poll Hindutva plank. While there is no rebellion brewing in the party, the lack of confidence in the leadership’s ability to lead from the front is rather palpable.

In this context, the Sonia camp is reluctant to take any chances. Although the Congress Working Committee is packed with “loyalists”, a meeting of the party’s apex decision making body has not been convened. Sources said some influential leaders around Sonia fear that disgruntled CWC members would target them instead of Sonia making them more vulnerable.

The party leadership is also trying hard to ward off the criticism that it played a “soft Hindutva” card. It has sent feelers to the Samajwadi and the Left parties to tone down their criticism in “larger interests”.

At another level, they are also considering removal of some AICC functionaries in charge of the Gujarat polls. There is also a question mark over continuation of Ashok Gehlot and Vilasrao Deshmukh — chief ministers of Rajasthan and Maharashtra — though no formal decision has been taken so far.

The Congress today sought to downplay the CPM’s criticism for allegedly adopting the “soft Hindutva” line during the Gujarat elections.

Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy said: “Each party is entitled to its assessment on the outcome of the Gujarat Assembly polls. Our ideological position is the same but assessment may differ on the results of the Gujarat Assembly elections.”

He was reacting to CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee’s statement that “soft Hindutva” line employed by the Congress was a factor for its rout in Gujarat.

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