The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia rips price cover
Sonia at the women’s event in New Delhi on Tuesday. Telegraph picture

New Delhi, March 6: When Usha Uthup sang, Sonia Gandhi clapped.

Little did the exuberance suggest that less than an hour earlier, Sonia had forced a choir of Congress stalwarts to face the music.

Letting loose a volley of uncomfortable questions, Sonia today called the Congress’s bluff that inflation was the main reason for the party’s dismal performance in the Punjab and Uttarakhand Assembly elections.

At a parliamentary party meeting convened before Sonia attended a woman’s event livened up by Usha, the Congress president said price rise “may have had an impact”.

Then she added bluntly: “Again and again, we tend not to subjugate individual ambitions to larger party objectives”.

“We must be candid with ourselves and look inwards to examine why so many sitting MLAs and ministers failed to retain their seats,” she told the party leaders. “Did we put up the best possible candidates and effort' Did we fail to work unitedly'”

The Congress’s debacle in Punjab and Uttarakhand was largely seen as a result of infighting and poor governance but the party had tried to make inflation the scapegoat.

However, zeroing in on home truths while referring to the original party line, Sonia today put the Congress on notice before the Uttar Pradesh elections.

She said it was time “other factors” such as factionalism, one-upmanship and self-promotion were looked into.

“Our performance in Punjab and Uttarakhand left much to be desired. In spite of sound all-round development, we were unable to retain power. This tells us that while objective factors such as price rise may have had an impact, there were other reasons as well.

“If we are to learn from the experience, we must draw the correct conclusions,” she told the meeting.

She ticked off the party’s poll managers for not working unitedly or choosing the “best possible” candidates.

This was interpreted as a veiled warning to central leaders who allegedly encouraged factionalism in Punjab and Uttarakhand, rarely visited states assigned to them and “remote-controlled politics” from the Delhi headquarters.

She reminded the party that it would be put to test again in Uttar Pradesh — a “difficult challenge” — Goa and Gujarat.

Meghalaya axe

In the evening, Sonia lived up to the tone set in the morning and asked Meghalaya chief minister J.D. Rymbai to step down. The chief minister, who has defied the party earlier, is locked in a power struggle with a Congress faction headed by his predecessor D.D. Lapang.

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