The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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First strain on Sonia shield
Cong banks on all-party fear

New Delhi, March 22: The Congress is hoping to play on the disqualification fears of MPs cutting across party lines to ride out the office of profit storm but sources conceded that the controversy has drawn into its vortex Sonia Gandhi for the first time since the UPA came to power.

Sonia, the sources said, managed to keep her head above the water whenever the government or the party faced crises ' whether in Jharkhand, Bihar and Karnataka, on the oil-for-food scandal that felled K. Natwar Singh and the Ottavio Quattrochchi controversy.

The Congress’s “advisers” and “managers” took the flak then, insisting that neither Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nor Sonia was “really” in the know or had any hand in the controversies.

However, Congress sources admitted today, the office of profit controversy offers little scope to shield Sonia.

When Jaya Bachchan was disqualified, the Congress maintained a studied silence mainly because of the tense relations between the Bachchans and the Nehru-Gandhis and an apprehension that sooner or later the party’s name would be dragged into the controversy.

That a Congressman, however small-time he is, piloted the complaint against Jaya also did not help much.

The Congress tried to suggest that the offices involved in taking the decision on Jaya’s membership ' the President and the Election Commission ' were manned by nominees of the previous NDA government and the party had nothing to do with it.

But the constitutional sensitivity of the high posts ensured that the Congress could not launch a high-pitched campaign.

When the Congress realised that a bomb was ticking, several cabinet ministers suggested the ordinance by pointing out that virtually every party, including the BJP, Samajwadi and the Left, had petitioned law minister H.R. Bhardwaj to amend the law fast and exempt many more offices of profit from its purview.

The plea was if the complaints ' over 40 are with the President ' mounted and were acted on, many MPs and MLAs stand to lose their seats.

In his briefing today, minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi mentioned how the BJP’s Arun Jaitley and Prakash Javadekar had stressed the law should be amended.

The government had hoped to shoot the amendments from the shoulders of the MPs and MLAs so that Sonia would be untouched.

The government’s original plan was to have the House adjourned sine die today on the plea that the legislative business for the second half was not drawn up and then quietly bring an ordinance through the cabinet. Its strategists reckoned few would have drawn a connection between the two circumstances.

When Parliament reassembled for the monsoon session, the ordinance would be legislated into law, so that the exercise had a veneer of consensus.

But Sonia’s backroom boys were stumped by a leak of the proposed ordinance.

Congress sources, however, claimed that the “political bonding” on protecting MPs was so deep that after “some noises from the BJP”, it would be business as usual.

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