The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ambika’s one foot still in party

New Delhi, Feb. 10: Ambika Soni has signalled that the move from Congress headquarters to the Union cabinet needn’t mean she is a pushover in the organisation and its power politics.

Before her appointment as culture and tourism minister, Ambika used to be considered the de facto number three in the Congress after Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary, Ahmed Patel, by virtue of her “proximity” to the party president.

Her induction in the government was taken to mean that Patel would tighten his grip over the organisation, for none of the other senior functionaries ' such as Motilal Vora, Janardhan Dwivedi and Digvijay Singh ' were seen as having the same clout. Congress sources said if there is a “challenge” to Patel, however remote, it’s Ambika.

The matter of appointing a chairperson to the Congress’s media cell after Ambika’s exit has apparently become a tussle to decide who will call the shots in the organisation.

Till today, the odds seemed to favour Dwivedi, who is a general secretary and a member of the Congress Working Committee. Like Ambika, he enjoys easy access to 10 Janpath ' a must for a media chairperson to gauge Sonia’s mind on issues and developments before the party airs its stand.

Insiders recalled that a former chairperson, Girija Vyas (who now heads the National Commission for Women), was a “disaster” mainly because she couldn’t pick up the phone and get through to the Congress president.

Sources indicated yesterday that the changes would be announced today, but that didn’t happen. It is believed Ambika is pushing for Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khursheed to head the media department.

But an influential lobby feels that if Khursheed is moved out of Lucknow a year before the state elections, it may send a “wrong message” to Muslims, a constituency the Congress is desperately trying to woo.

With the Samajwadi Party having indicated that the BJP is no longer a political “untouchable”, these functionaries argue that the time is ripe for the Congress to try and retrieve its minority base.

But many functionaries have jumped the gun and begun speculating on Khursheed’s possible successor in Lucknow. Some believe appointing a Brahmin as state unit boss would be “prudent” because the community had formed the party’s base for decades till it went over to the BJP in the post-Mandal years.

The name of Rajeshpati “Abu” Tripathi has been mentioned because of his “lineage”. He is the grandson of the late Kamlapati Tripathi.

When contacted, Rajeshpati said: “There is no such move, not now at least. Mr Khursheed will continue.”

Another argument for a Brahmin chief is that if the BJP and the Samajwadi Party get together before the polls, the Brahmins would have no choice but to return to the Congress.

The logic is: the community had left the Congress precisely because it had backed a government by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1991.

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