The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia sends out shuffle signal

New Delhi, April 22: Congress president Sonia Gandhi seems set to announce the long-awaited reshuffle of her AICC team as instructions have apparently gone to the party headquarters to keep some rooms ready for probable new entrants to the team.

Not many in the party are confident about the timing of the announcement as Sonia has proved their speculation wrong on many occasions over the last two months.

On Monday, apparently on instructions from her, the room occupied by the AICC minorities’ cell in the main building of the Congress headquarters was vacated. Sources are expecting the announcement by the weekend.

Party leaders are also clueless about the nature of changes their chief intends to effect. Sonia herself had shed some light on the exercise last month when she ruled out the possibility of creating posts like those of vice-president or working president.

The sources indicated that the changes might bring some additional responsibilities for Ahmed Patel, currently one of Sonia’s two political secretaries. Patel might be made a general secretary and handed charge of some states in addition to his responsibilities as political secretary, they said. He then would occupy a room in the party headquarters.

The sources also said Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was sent as president of the Jammu and Kashmir unit last April after being relieved as one of the general secretaries, might make a comeback with that rank. He is widely believed to have conveyed his desire to return.

But bringing back Azad, who still retains the room he had occupied at the party headquarters, could prove a ticklish issue. Sonia, the sources said, might not be able to accommodate three leaders from the minority community as general secretaries. His induction could mean that Mohsina Kidwai, who is completing a year as general secretary this Thursday, might end up losing her post.

A section in the party is, therefore, inclined to rule out Azad’s return.

He may be asked to continue as the state unit chief as well as chairman of the ruling coalition’s coordination committee in Jammu and Kashmir.

There has been prolonged speculation in party circles that apart from Kidwai, at least two other general secretaries — Vayalar Ravi and Mukul Wasnik — might be on a shaky wicket. Among the candidates being talked of as possible replacements are R.K. Dhawan, Ramesh Chennithala and Vilasrao Deshmukh. The latest entrant on the list of possible candidates is Kapil Sibal.

Contrary to earlier speculation, powerful general secretary and Sonia’s political secretary Ambika Soni seems to have retained her confidence. Notwithstanding a quiet campaign by her rivals, she might retain both posts, the sources believed. However, she might have to give up the responsibility of some of the states currently assigned to her as a general secretary.

Having come under criticism from her rivals within the party over her handling of the Kerala Rajya Sabha nominations, Soni is believed to have requested Sonia to relieve her of the responsibility of the southern state. This might, it is said, make it easier to resolve the Kerala party crisis, triggered by veteran leader K. Karunakaran’s virtual rebellion against the high command.

Changes in Sonia’s team of general secretaries could also necessitate some changes in the party working committee. Sources are confident that the number of secretaries at the AICC will surely be brought down. Also under Sonia’s consideration are changes in the frontal organisations, a couple of which are headless at the moment.

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