Pawar revolts, Sonia rallies troops
Three stabs on ides of May
Blind strike for No. 1 or nothing
Woolmer plugged in over board?s head
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 16 
Confronting a crisis as grave as the one her husband faced a decade ago but more stunning in its suddenness, Sonia Gandhi tonight began regrouping loyalists in a bid to crush a Sharad Pawar-led revolt that questioned her credentials to lead the country as she was born a foreigner.

With three members of the Congress Working Committee ? Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar ? firing at Sonia Gandhi from the BJP?s plank, the party could head for a split.

Pawar?s move also threatens to severely affect the Congress? prospects in the coming Lok Sabha polls and it remains to be seen how the Congress president handles this open revolt. The party had split under Rajiv Gandhi when V.P. Singh was forced to leave after the Bofors controversy.

?It is not possible that a country of 980 million, with a wealth of education, competence and ability, can have any one other than an Indian, born on Indian soil, to head the government,? the three rebels said in a four-page signed letter handed over to Sonia Gandhi herself after the CWC meeting yesterday.

Nearly 18 hours later, the party leadership decided to convene an emergency CWC meeting at 4 pm tomorrow. Pawar has already informed CWC member Oscar Fernandes that he will not attend the meeting. In case a decision is taken against the observations made in the letter, he should be considered a dissenter, Pawar added. Sangma will not be present either, as he is in the US, but Anwar is likely to be there.

This is the first major challenge to Sonia Gandhi?s leadership since she took over as party chief. The Congress president has a number of options before her. She can expel the rebels, a line of action being pushed by Arjun Singh, though Sonia Gandhi wants to hear them out once more. She can also reject the trio?s demand through a vote in the CWC, loaded with her loyalists, and then take action.

She can persuade the rebels to withdraw the letter and leave the leadership issue to newly-elected MPs. As a last resort, she can voluntarily make an offer not to hold any public office.

But most Congressmen realise that no leader other than Sonia Gandhi can coalesce their ranks, keep them united and win them votes. Senior Congress leaders, including most CWC members, met at the residence of party general secretary Pranab Mukherjee today and decided to oppose the rebels? demand.

Also, with most CWC members behind her, Pawar?s demand that the Congress election manifesto should suggest an amendment to the Constitution debarring any person not born in India from holding the office of Prime Minister, President and Vice-President is likely to be rejected.

Sonia Gandhi was told bluntly by the rebels that she was not fit to be Prime Minister. ?You are good as the party leader but not good enough to be the Prime Minister,? they told her. But she quickly regained control and told confidantes: ?I will fight till the end.?

Sonia Gandhi told CWC members she had never projected herself as a future Prime Minister. ?They kept saying that. This is not the issue, as the newly-elected MPs will decide the matter,? she told CWC members who called on her today.

The defiant CWC members are preparing for a life outside Congress. One of the rebels said they are eyeing Chandrababu Naidu, Mulayam Yadav, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee and R.K. Hegde as part of another front.

Congress leaders accused them of playing the BJP?s game. ?The issues raised by them are identical to those raised by the Sangh parivar. They are the Mir Jaffers of today,? a leader said.

However, the Congress is also worried that the rebellion may trigger an exodus. Several senior leaders whom Sonia Gandhi has dumped or sidelined may be tempted to join hands with Pawar.

Most state Congress chiefs, though, have already come out in favour of Sonia Gandhi. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, who the rebels claimed would side with them, pledged his support to the Congress chief, saying she ?had been accepted by the nation as an Indian citizen?. Orissa chief minister Giridhar Gamang, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit have reposed faith in Sonia Gandhi?s leadership.

Seventeen CWC members, including Arjun Singh, want Sonia Gandhi to take stringent disciplinary action against the rebels.

Sonia Gandhi had a busy day holding consultations with Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee.

Ahmad Patel and R.K. Dhawan sought the help of Sitaram Kesri to prevail upon Anwar, but to no avail. Kamal Nath is also trying to play peace-maker and is in constant touch with fence-sitters.    

New Delhi, May 16 
Everyone was growing restless, dying to catch up with India?s Cup opener in England. Then Sharad Pawar smiled and P.A. Sangma stood up.

The rebellion in the Congress has begun, signalled by the mighty Maratha, executed by the dimunitive Samurai with a swish of his razor-sharp tongue and watched by an impassive Sonia Gandhi and the rest of her stunned council.

As recounted by those present at the CWC meeting, Sangma slowly built a case for how the BJP campaign against Sonia Gandhi?s origin was seeping deep down to even remote villages. Then came the unkindest cut. ?We know very little about you, about your parents,? Sangma told her.

Eyewitnesses claim Sonia Gandhi was stupefied by the bluntness of Sangma, who was drafted into the CWC as her nominee. The third signatory, Sitaram Kesri?s prot?g? Tariq Anwar, too, had survived in the CWC even after his mentor?s departure, courtesy Sonia Gandhi.

Then the man she had made the leader of Opposition picked up from where Sangma left off. With opening remarks as deceptive as the ?smile signal?, Pawar said Sonia Gandhi had done a great job as the party chief. ?You brought unity in the party and revamped the organisation. However, the Congress has not succeeded in answering the BJP?s campaign about your foreign origin. Let us take a serious note of it.?

Soon, the velvet gloves were off. ?When people ask us why the Congress has failed to get a qualified Indian among its 980 million citizens as its prime ministerial candidate, we have no answer. I think they are right,? he said.

The three rebels said while she was good as party chief, she was not good enough to be the Congress? prime ministerial candidate. They used on her the BJP?s argument that as she was not a natural Indian citizen, she was not qualified to rule the billion people who make up the country.

A CWC member said the incident was a chilling reminder of 1977 when Indira Gandhi received a similar letter from Jagjivan Ram at a CWC meeting. ?Sonia Gandhi considers her mother-in-law to be her role model. She now has to fight and prove herself like Indira Gandhi,? he added.

Yesterday?s CWC meeting was supposed to be a brief one, where everyone was in hurry to finalise the list of candidates for the Goa Assembly polls and discuss the Rajiv assassination case as well as poll alliances, so that cricket enthusiasts could return to their television sets as early as possible.

Ironically, Sonia Gandhi herself raised the issue of the BJP?s campaign against her foreign origin, asserting she would ?fight till the end?. Sitting next to Pawar, R.K. Dhawan told her comfortingly: ?Madam, you are not alone in this battle. We are all with you.?

The meeting ended abruptly with Arjun Singh drafting a resolution which attacked the BJP?s campaign against Sonia Gandhi.

Just after the meet, while Sonia Gandhi was trying to concentrate on the list of nominees for Goa, she received the letter. She called senior leaders including Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh. Till late night, they struggled to formulate a response.    

New Delhi, May 16 
Branded ?Mir Jafar? by 10 Janpath loyalists after last night?s ?betrayal?, Sharad Pawar has lived up to his reputation for ruthlessness by wounding Sonia Gandhi when she is most vulnerable.

With the Congress president failing to muster a majority to form an alternative government and busy trying to shake off the BJP?s ?foreigner? label, Pawar knew that this was the time to go for the kill.

Pawar?s critics point out that shortly after Rajiv Gandhi?s death, he was one of the signatories to the long list of Congress leaders demanding Sonia Gandhi don the assassinated leader?s mantle. She had then flatly refused to do so.

Again in 1997, when the Congress plotters quietly staged a coup and Sonia Gandhi took over from Sitaram Kesri, Pawar was an active player. This year, he was given the key responsibility of acquiring signatures from probable allies soon after the fall of the Vajpayee government.

Even recently, Pawar was entrusted with the crucial job of stitching up alliances in other states. He was in Chennai only a few days ago for talks with ADMK chief Jayalalitha. He was to be in Chennai again tomorrow.

However, beneath the professional veneer, Pawar and Sonia Gandhi never seemed to get along with each other. She preferred to maintain a distance, keeping in mind Rajiv Gandhi?s opinion that Pawar was a good leader, but not one to be trusted.

Pawar is not new to either sudden somersaults or going against someone whom he had been supporting all along. Early in his career, he did a Mayavati to the Congress government of Vasantdada Patil and went against Indira Gandhi to launch the Congress(S). Rajiv Gandhi took him back during the Congress centenary year in 1985.

Of late, Pawar had told his confidantes on numerous occasions that the Congress was now revolving around 20 Canning Lane, the Delhi address of Arjun Singh. But Arjun Singh was not his target. It appears now that he was unwilling to play Singh?s role as the second-in-command. Pawar took the decision to go against Sonia Gandhi because he wants to be in charge.

Pawar is 58 and knows that if a 52-year-old woman takes over power, his prospects of securing the prime job in the country would disappear.

For Pawar, it will now be a Herculean effort, if he decides to form a new front. He could try and court old friend Mulayam Yadav, and urge either DMK or Jayalalitha and the likes of Chandrababu Naidu to join him.

Pawar?s most saleable asset is the impressive performance of the Congress in Maharashtra in the last general elections, the full credit for which has gone to him. But it will be difficult for him to stitch a broad front without any countrywide appeal like either Vajpayee or Sonia Gandhi. History also has shown that barring V.P. Singh, few have done well after walking out of the Congress.

Still, yesterday, he betrayed signs that he believed there was no point in continuing in a party where his career had plateaued.    

London, May 16 
Coach Bob Woolmer did not have the United Cricket Board of South Africa?s (UCBSA?s) consent to put a one-way radio in operation during the World Cup.

That was, however, done in the India match at Hove yesterday and sparked a controversy with Match Referee Talat Ali asking Woolmer to have the earphones of captain Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald removed.

?To be honest, we weren?t told it will be put into use during the tournament... A year back, Bob did tell me he wished to experiment ? as is done in some other sport, specially in the US ? but I?d said we should first consider its ramifications,? UCBSA managing director Dr Ali Bacher told The Telegraph this morning.

The UCBSA, though, is not penalising either Woolmer or the captain.

?Look, the UCBSA doesn?t stifle creativity and we won?t discourage innovations. But, yes, in hindsight, we all accept we should have sought the International Cricket Council (ICC?s) permission. We certainly don?t wish to undermine the ICC,? Dr Bacher added.

Dr Bacher confirmed the one-way radio was used during the warm-up matches. It was also tried out during the Gary Kirsten benefit game, in Cape Town, shortly before the South Africans departed for the World Cup.

According to Dr Bacher, ?somehow? the Match Referees had got wind of Woolmer?s plans and they actually discussed it among themselves ?last week?. That probably explains Ali?s alertness.

Dr Bacher remarked he?d spoken to Mike Brearley about it, last evening, and the brilliant former England captain?s view was: ?It shouldn?t be thrown out for good. Let there be a debate.?

Brearley, of course, would have been the last captain to entertain tips from any coach.

Dr Bacher disagreed that with the coach constantly advising the captain, the captain?s own position would get undermined. ?The coach will only give options, that too in a tight situation. In fact, even batsmen could get linked up. So, it could be beneficial for everybody, not just the captain and bowlers.?

The UCBSA, one understands, may soon discuss whether the one-way radio should be experimented with in domestic cricket. ?That would be the best route... After that, we could formally approach the ICC and list the merits and de-merits of its usage,? Dr Bacher pointed out.

Clearly, next time, the South Africans wouldn?t like to ignite a controversy. Predictably, Cronje thinks it?s a ?great idea,? and though Mohammed Azharuddin feels the one-way radio is bound to ?enter? cricket, sooner or later, he?s not particularly enthused by it.

Whatever the preferences, we do have a debate on our hands.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Clouds towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day temperature.
Temperature:Maximum 35.1 (1?C below normal)
Minimum 22.9?C (4?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 93% Minimum 53%
Rainfall: 2.2 mm
Sunset: 6.07 pm Sunrise: 4.58 am    

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