The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Breakfast twist to PM drama

New Delhi, May 18: The day dawned cool and clear as usual over 10 Janpath. The household was astir, but Rahul Gandhi did not head for his daily workout. Sister Priyanka arrived soon with Rehan and Meera in tow.

Nature was going her unchanging way, but it was a special day in the bungalow: Sonia Gandhi was to stake claim to form the next government.

All that changed at breakfast. Sonia told her children that she had thought about becoming Prime Minister again and again and was not convinced enough to take up the job.

Yesterday, Congress leaders had sought the siblings’ services to persuade Sonia when she first voiced her doubts about leading a Congress coalition government.

Priyanka was the first to sense that Sonia was serious. Rahul advised her to act upon her instincts. “Mama we are with you in any decision you take,” he told her.

For rest of the day, the brother-sister duo avoided discussions with senior Congress leaders, making it clear that the issue was sealed. Priyanka said she was proud of her mother.

There was no heated discussion, no argument. It has been like this between them — Sonia and her children, her closest friends and advisers.

In 1999, the Gandhis pleaded with then President K.R. Narayanan for mercy for Nalini Murugan, who was condemned to death for her role in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. They had debated the issue after dinner and arrived at a consensus that Nalini should be spared to raise her daughter who was then barely eight.

Sonia’s decision will have a crucial bearing on her children’s political future. She is all set to continue as party chief and her popularity and stature are likely to soar but not everybody in the Congress is convinced about “smooth-sailing”.

The Congress has dreaded two “power centres” since the tussle between those loyal to P.V. Narasimha Rao and an apolitical 10 Janpath during 1991-96 that led to a split and defeat of the party.

Rahul is set to become party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh. His prime task will be to revive the Congress in the state that sends the most MPs to Parliament.

The optimists are confident Sonia’s popularity would reflect in Rahul’s success. But the pessimists are not so sure. If Sonia had been Prime Minister, his “grooming” would have been a smooth affair. But now, whispers have started about relations between the PMO and 24 Akbar Road becoming strained later.

A section in the party feels Rahul would act as a “link” between the party and the government. He has been working closely with a core group consisting of Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khursheed, Sam Pitroda and others. Some of them are set to join the government and would probably implement his ideas.

While there are several views about what Rahul would be doing, there aren’t many about Priyanka. Some believe Sonia might resign as Rae Bareli MP and field Priyanka. But such a step is likely to be taken closer to the next general elections. For now, she will continue to provide “moral support” to Sonia and Rahul.

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