The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia claps, PC in a pickle
Sonia and Chidambaram

New Delhi, April 28: When Sonia Gandhi thumps the desk enthusiastically to an MP attacking P. Chidambaram, evil minds wonder if the Congress president is telling the finance minister she is not happy with him.

Sitting next to Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha, she applauded Gurudas Dasgupta as the CPI member made an impassioned speech, accusing the finance ministry of virtually shielding large corporate defaulters of bank loans.

'Should this loot be allowed to continue in a country where 40 per cent of people are below the poverty line and the government says it has no money' he asked.

Thump, thump, thump ' Sonia's fist landed on the desk, not once, even twice, but several times. And she was not alone. Many Congress members joined in. It was not known if they felt inspired by her or were moved by Dasgupta's speech.

Dasgupta and Chidambaram are not exactly friends. The CPI member is a staunch opponent of banking reforms, being a union leader active in that industry. He is also known to be something of a crusader against corporate loan defaults, where government-owned banks are the victims.

Recently, he came out with a Top Ten list of such defaulters, against whom, Dasgupta alleged, even civil suits had not been filed.

'The government should make wilful default of payments a criminal offence,' Dasgupta said. He asked the finance minister to cite reasons why the government could not publish a list of offenders.

Sonia nodded in agreement and clapped, causing some discomfort to Chidambaram who was not quite prepared for the reaction Dasgupta evoked.

When the CPI member started to speak, the mood was casual. Chidambaram and information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy were exchanging notes and laughing.

But as Dasgupta raised the pitch, all eyes, including Sonia's, turned towards him. He spoke for 20 minutes and held Sonia's attention all through. As the party chief applauded, Chidambaram became busy, taking notes on slips of paper.

Dasgupta asked the finance ministry to recommend to the Election Commission to debar defaulters from contesting polls. Once again, Congress MPs, led by their president, thumped desks.

Before Chidambaram replied, Dasgupta said: 'I would request the finance minister not to use linguistic bombast but to come out with an action plan.'

Sonia smiled and clapped.

Chidambaram began with the promise of brevity. 'I will try to simplify my language,' he said, adding, 'I have not spared anyone.'

Sonia left as MPs clustered around Dasgupta and congratulated him.

A top Left leader tried to explain her unexpected support for Dasgupta. 'She has a good heart. We have often seen this side of her before.'

Congress sources agreed. For Chidambaram, too, her heart is in the right place, they said.

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