The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gag after target practice on Soni

New Delhi, Sept. 17: Sonia Gandhi has asked Congress ministers and office-bearers to stop airing their views in public on whether Ambika Soni should quit over the Ram setu row.

Sources said the Congress chief wants to cap the controversy triggered by the now-withdrawn “objectionable” affidavit in the Supreme Court as two views have emerged on who was “morally” culpable.

The issue, which was beginning to die down after the Centre withdrew the controversial affidavit, bounced back to life after minister Jairam Ramesh said in Calcutta on Saturday that he would have resigned had he been in Ambika’s place.

More fuel was shovelled into the fire today with CWC member R.K. Dhawan saying that Ambika could have submitted her papers to the Prime Minister and Sonia, leaving the matter to them. But Dhawan added in the next breath that Ramesh should not have gone public on Ambika.

One section in the party feels that Ambika’s position has become untenable after the public pronouncements by Ramesh and Dhawan but another thinks she may not be shown the door, not “in these circumstances” at least.

Those in favour of action contend that her resignation would also help put a lid on the controversy. Ambika has asked for an appointment with the Prime Minister.

Two functionaries, Digvijay Singh and Salman Khursheed, have come out in Ambika’s support.

Ramesh, along with Khursheed and Kumari Selja, was part of an Ambika-led ginger group that crafted the “aam aadmi” campaign for the 2004 elections. But both he and Selja, also a junior minister, slowly distanced themselves from her.

Dhawan, Indira Gandhi’s right-hand man, was out in the cold for years. Recently rehabilitated by Sonia, he is now a Rajya Sabha MP and in charge of Himachal Pradesh.

Congress sources said Sonia was “unhappy” with the impression that Ramesh and Dhawan — regarded 10 Janpath “loyalists” — were allegedly prodded to speak out against Ambika, who was once close to her, and wanted to remove that perception.

If Ambika quits now, she would be projected as a “victim” of the Congress’s power politics, the sources said.

“With the nuclear deal and the Left hanging like albatrosses around our necks, an intra-party quarrel or an appearance of it is the last thing we want,” said a general secretary.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the “signal” from 10 Janpath was: “The less different persons speak on the matter, the better.”

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