The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cut-to-size Soni second only to Sonia

New Delhi, May 19: Three weeks after Sonia Gandhi’s poll-oriented organisational revamp of the Congress, Ambika Soni has belied all initial talk of her abolition into oblivion.

It is increasingly evident that the most powerful Congress general secretary continues to be the unofficial number two in the party.

Belying all speculation about her being demoted in the party hierarchy, Soni’s near domination — according to party sources — of the recent two-day poll review meeting here with state leaders showed her undiminished clout.

She may no longer be the party president’s political secretary after the recent reshuffle in the AICC, but she has not lost any of the powers she exercised earlier. Soni may have had to give up the post only to conform to the party’s one-person-one-post norm.

As one of the party general secretaries, Soni continues to hold charge of the all-important Congress president’s office which she was managing as a political secretary — confirming her unofficial number-two position.

Her rivals within the party, who had sought to counter her authority through their campaign for drastic changes in the AICC after the Gujarat poll debacle, have apparently managed meagre success.

For while Soni has managed to be a member of all important panels created by Sonia — particularly the political affairs committee — the powerful leaders behind the campaign earned little from the AICC reshuffle.

If the purpose behind creating the political committee was to set up an informal, yet powerful panel to advise Sonia on all party matters, then Soni has managed to do so by being a part of the panel.

The new committee, of course, may have little use in practical terms because of its unwieldy composition. It is yet to meet and as some leaders put it in a lighter vein, “it (the committee) will meet only when there is a crisis situation”.

Soni has further strengthened her position by establishing a firm grip on party affairs in most Congress-ruled states along with her camp followers in the AICC.

Soni is in charge of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir. Vayalar Ravi, Salman Khursheed and “friendly” Ahmed Patel account for crucial Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi and Kerala.

Mukul Wasnik, another Soni confidant, continues to retain charge of all party frontal organisations. Nawal Kishore Sharma, also considered close to Soni, is in charge of Uttar Pradesh.

The two newcomers who are not known to enjoy a good rapport with Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad and R.K. Dhawan, have been given jobs where all they will have time for is to prove themselves.

Azad, in charge of Andhra Pradesh, will have to sweat it out to wrest the Telugu Desam Party-ruled state for the Congress. Dhawan has no easier a job in hand for he is charge of Bihar and Jharkhand, states that have been out of the party grip for over a decade while they were still undivided.

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