The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Throne at super-chair’s mercy
- Congress hands party chief power to change Prime Minister

If there was a security threat, we would have shut our mother
inside a room and told her not to go out — Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi, May 19: The party that has been referring to its president as Gandhi Sonia since yesterday gave her today the status the Mahatma enjoyed: of the Supreme Leader.

By making Sonia the chairperson, the Congress parliamentary party has handed her sweeping powers to appoint or sack the Prime Minister.

Under the amendments carried out today, the chairperson of the CPP, who will be elected by MPs, will nominate two leaders of the party — one for each House. “The chairperson shall have the authority to name the leader of the CPP to head the government, if necessary,” spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said.

There was nobody crying foul or suspecting a sinister design. Sonia has convinced Congress leaders that other than their welfare, she has no interest. By virtue of the amendments to the party constitution, Sonia will be taking the seat in the Lok Sabha that has always been reserved for the Prime Minister.

The chair may be waiting for her but, unburdened by the weight of the crown, a smiling Sonia today handled with ease Congress leaders, allies and well-wishers who came calling on her with worship on their minds.

As she chatted with them, she recalled how in April 1999 she was “all ready to name someone else” as Prime Minister when Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, the RSP and the Forward Bloc scuppered the effort to form an alternative to the BJP-led government. The 1999 episode, when she claimed to have had the support of the majority of members, was seen by her opponents as an example of a “greedy, power-hungry” person. After that incident, in the general elections the Congress’ tally dropped to an all-time low of 113 with the NDA having made it an issue.

Why did she not counter the campaign then' Sources close to her claim to have the answer. According to them, if Sonia had made public her unwillingness then, the party might have lost motivation. It could also have encouraged factionalism.

The Congress president swallowed the insult and held her silence until the moment came. That moment was May 13 when, after the poll results, Sonia believed she had fulfilled her Panchmarhi pledge to “restore the (party’s) past glory” and make the Congress a party of the “best and the brightest”.

Sonia began her day with yoga, had breakfast and scanned the papers as an enthusiastic Rahul read out the eulogistic editorials and headlines. Those present at the time said her face was drained of emotion.

Visitors began to trickle in. Sharad Pawar, who was the first to have raised the banner of revolt over her foreign origin on May 15, 1999, greeted her saying he admired her guts and conviction. Sonia smiled without reacting. In all likelihood, Pawar is going to join the government. Congress leaders did not miss the irony. “Here is a man who acted the spoiler. And see how he is going to benefit from her at the fag end of his life.”

When a few overzealous “loyalists” sought to present their request again for her to reconsider, her eyes hardened and they caught the signal.

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