The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Clock strikes nine and new script unfolds

New Delhi, May 18: Daughter Priyanka today said Sonia Gandhi never wanted to be the Prime Minister.

Son Rahul endorsed her saying during the campaign, he had called his mother from Amethi to ask if she would be the Prime Minister. “No,” she had said, pointing out that her sole aim was to drive out “communal forces”.

Rahul and Priyanka said they would be “surprised” if Sonia reconsiders her decision in view of the Congress parliamentary party’s insistence.

Last night, when the parliamentary party was told that Sonia would stake claim on Tuesday, it learnt a half-truth.

But what could be the rationale of projecting Sonia as the Prime Minister for the past three days and keeping her rejection a secret'

Sources close to Sonia have an answer. The secrecy and her primacy were required to bring about unity in the Congress and its allies.

Having achieved the twin tasks, Sonia moved on to her original plan — to shun power and ensure smooth succession. Had she announced the decision on May 13, the fragile unity of what is now called the United Progressive Alliance, packed with ambitious leaders and whimsical allies, perhaps could not have been achieved.

Sonia remained reluctant throughout and announced her decision this morning after a round of consultations with her children and two apolitical friends.

Sources said the decision was not influenced by any of them. The children and family friends backed Sonia’s stand respecting her strong sentiments.

Congress sources said Rahul and Priyanka did initially try to influence her pointing at workers’ sentiments but gave in.

Yesterday, when the allies were sounded, there was a strong reaction. At the end of the day, Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee dubbed speculation over her reluctance “rumours” but they did not stress that Sonia would be the Prime Minister.

Today, both of them clarified that the media and Congress MPs had presumed that she would stake claim when told Sonia would meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at 9 am.

The clock struck 9 and ticked past but there was no sign of Sonia at Rashtrapati Bhavan. She called senior party leaders to tell she would not be accepting the post and then took Manmohan Singh to Kalam.

Pleasantries were followed by some business. When a smiling Kalam asked her to produce the letters of support, she asked for a day.

A day to obtain a fresh set of letters from allies who had pledged support specifically to a new government “under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership”.

Back at 10 Janpath, she assigned senior leaders — Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad among them — to personally visit the alliance leaders and explain her point of view.

The leaders were told to convey her decision so that the allies could issue letters of support in favour of a “Congress-led alliance”. Most of the allies were surprised and some dismayed but in keeping with Sonia’s wishes, obliged.

Mukherjee went to Sharad Pawar’s house and soon the news was out. AICC functionaries busy having their fill at various Delhi restaurants left in a hurry when their mobile phones began ringing. Many did not believe but Sonia had indeed declined.

The doors to 10 Janpath were firmly shut even for those who had a reasonably good access.

Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni admitted in hushed voices that their “worst fears” were true.

Sonia summoned two of her trusted writers and began drafting a speech that was later delivered in the Central Hall of Parliament.

Overwhelmed and at times emotional, the seasoned wordsmiths took short breaks when at work. Sonia provided inputs, articulating that she wanted to convey to party leaders that no matter how her critics had dubbed her power hungry and “foreigner,” she was more Indian than many Indians. Her act had a message for cynics that politics was not about hankering for power and occupying office.

Email This Page