The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ministry wish lists pile up on Sonia

New Delhi, May 14: As Sonia Gandhi gets ready for the big day, neat folders holding typed sheets are piling up on her desk. There are no letterheads on top or signatures below, but the word “communication” figures in almost all.

A closer look would reveal more. The notes offer names of ministries that each existing and potential ally of the Congress hopes to bag in the new dispensation.

Civil aviation is hot, along with rural development, food, civil supplies and irrigation. The high and mighty among the allies have set their sights on bigger portfolios, such as home, defence and agriculture, but are careful not to put this in black and white.

Ambika Soni, Ahmad Patel and all those perceived to be close to Sonia get “calls” where pleasantries generally lead to a discussion on “worldly goods” such as likely portfolios.

The scramble for ministries has begun even before the Congress has formally elected Sonia its leader.

Even the common minimum programme has made no headway except that Harkishen Singh Surjeet has signalled to Manmohan Singh to prepare a “rough draft” that could be discussed “clause by clause”, line by line. The authors are dreading that even as they leaf through party manifestos of various non-NDA parties. Some areas have been marked in red as “minefields”.

Sonia and her close associates are beginning to get a taste of coalition politics. The Congress is not used to fiddling with its ideology or programme and senior party leaders concede the problems ahead.

“Except for secularism or the collective desire to drive away the BJP, we have nothing in common with them but destiny has brought us together,” a senior leader said, taking off his glasses.

Close associates of Sonia laugh nervously. “It is the time to get the taste of real power politics,” said one, admitting that dealing with the “Janata Dal parivar” and Left parties would be a “mighty task”.

Already, sneaking admiration for Atal Bihari Vajpayee is coming through. “Managing contradictions is not an easy task,” said a former chief minister, pointing at 10 Janpath’s style of functioning, with its own “set of rules”.

10 Janpath hates the idea of leaks to the media. In a rainbow coalition, Congress leaders are dreading how cabinet meetings would remain confidential. “We can keep quiet but how will one check the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav or Amar Singh, who even in jest, can be lethal,” a Congress functionary said.

But for the “sake of secularism” Sonia and her party colleagues are all set to jump into uncertain waters. “It is never too late to experiment and learn,” a former minister said. Some said it is time to have fun, others said the furrows on Sonia’s forehead are likely to get deeper.

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