The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Not a ‘saint’, Sonia turns attention to party

New Delhi, May 22: The government has been sworn in, now it’s time to put the house in order.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said she would concentrate on reorganising her party’s 24-member working committee as many of its members have joined the government.

“I will be reorganising the CWC as many members have become ministers,” she told reporters after the swearing-in.

All AICC office-bearers and working committee members had submitted their resignation letters to Sonia to make her change her mind after she refused to be Prime Minister. As the letters are with her, it makes her job of revamping the party easier.

“I will have to look at the whole thing (party) again,” Sonia, who mixed freely with guests during the get-together after the ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, said. About her son Rahul, she said: “Younger people like him are probably needed by the party.”

Sources said younger leaders, who could not find a place in the ministry, could be drafted for party work, probably to help Rahul build a team of his own. Seasoned leaders like former chief ministers Digvijay Singh and Ashok Gehlot could come in as AICC general secretaries, the sources added.

The Congress president countered with a query, asking a reporter what he thought when he asked her whether the BJP had accepted defeat gracefully. “I agree with you,” she said when he replied that the BJP may not have taken the defeat well.

Asked if she had sacrificed prime ministership, Sonia said: “I am not a saint. I am a human being like you people.”

If Sonia appeared elated after the days of hectic talks with the allies, the new Prime Minister was humble in his moment of glory. Dressed in his trademark kurta-churidar and light blue turban, Manmohan Singh walked up to Sonia and thanked her after he was sworn in.

He was also the first to greet the man whom he succeeds, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on his arrival and also after the ceremony was over.

Vajpayee appeared contemplative in his farewell hour.

Among those who witnessed the swearing-in at the Ashoka hall were not only all the surviving former Prime Ministers along with their wives, but also former President K.R. Narayanan with wife Usha and Vimla Sharma, wife of the late President S.D. Sharma.

The contrast with the past was clear, not only in the venue, which was the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan last time. Unlike Vajpayee, the Oxford-Cambridge educated Singh spoke in English, a language his southern allies are also comfortable with.

Replacing Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav from Bihar were their rivals Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. For the DMK, however, it was a replay with son Dayanidhi Maran bringing back memories of his late father Murasoli Maran, who was a minister in the earlier government.

Apparently, it was not a very comfortable moment for the old guard when former Sangh kinsman Shankersinh Vaghela took oath.

That Sonia kept in mind the favourites of her late husband, Rajiv Gandhi, was evident from the inclusion of his “blue-eyed” boys like P. Chidambaram and Mani Shankar Aiyar.

As Laloo Prasad took oath, L.K. Advani, who was deputy Prime Minister in the Vajpayee government, could be seen clasping both his hands in his characteristic style.

While most went for traditional attire, including kurta-pyjama, kurta-churidar, pathan suits, dhoti-shirts and bandhgalas, PMK chief Ramadoss’ son Anbumani chose a two-piece suit with a tie, reflecting the diversity of the ruling alliance and their preferences.

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