The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soni & Patel ‘follow’ Sonia

New Delhi, May 22: Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was finalising the list of ministers at 10 Janpath, AICC general secretary Ambika Soni was busy writing another script in neighbouring 24 Akbar Road, seeking to establish the party’s supremacy over the government.

Soni, perceived to be close to Sonia Gandhi, turned down an offer of a ministerial berth, saying she would like to emulate the party president. Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel also declined a ministry but decided against going public with his announcement.

Both Soni and Ahmed were expected to act as the interface between the government and the party. Their decision to stay away is not without significance. It aims to place them on a higher pedestal as the duo who will side with Sonia under all circumstances. The loyalty card has been flashed at a time when a number of senior leaders such as Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, Oscar Fernandes, Kamal Nath and Ghulam Nabi Azad were lobbying hard for prize portfolios.

The AICC secretariat is to be revamped shortly and Sonia is set to bring in Rahul Gandhi as general secretary. Party insiders said Soni and Ahmed are likely to be rewarded then.

Government formation appeared to have brought little cheer at the party headquarters. There were no festivities. Party leaders who received a personal call from Sonia asking them to join the government celebrated at home but 24 Akbar Road was deserted. Many leading lights behind the Congress campaign such as Salman Khurshid and Jairam Ramesh were conspicuous by their absence at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Soni’s letter to Sonia said: “Today you have asked me to serve as a member in the council of ministers of the government of India. A singular honour for every political worker. But I am also one of those who have been inspired by your unique example. Allow me to emulate you. I, too, would like to work with your motto of selflessness and service to the nation above everything else.”

Soni said in “all humility” she wanted to request the AICC chief to ask the Prime Minister not to include her in the council of ministers. “My close association with you is very valuable to me and I cherish it.”

She said Sonia’s decision to renounce prime ministership had “electrified the world” and “strengthened” the secular ethos of the Indian polity. “You have enthused party workers across the country. You have dealt a lethal blow to all those who have been ranting and raving about sectarian and divisive issues. Yours has been an act unparalleled in political history.” Asked if Congress workers should follow her gesture, Soni said: “Who wants to follow or who does not, that is up to them. I have followed Sonia Gandhi. This is my personal decision.”

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