SONIA READIES SATRAP SHOW OF STRENGTH 

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By FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
  • Published 24.10.00
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New Delhi, Oct. 24 :    New Delhi, Oct. 24:  Leaving nothing to chance, the Congress has summoned all state party unit presidents, chief ministers of Congress-ruled states and Congress Legislature Party leaders to Delhi on October 28 to file nomination papers for Sonia Gandhi as the next party chief. A huge pandal has come up inside 24, Akbar Road, where the party polls will be conducted. Indications are that all Pradesh Congress Committee units will back Sonia to send a strong signal that she alone is acceptable to them. The move is aimed at dissuading Jitendra Prasada from entering the fray. Sonia's managers are working overtime to finalise the list of party delegates who form the electoral college. Admitting the delay, AICC central authority chairman Ram Niwas Mirdha - who was gheraoed by a party supporters from Bihar - said: "The process will be completed by tomorrow or before October 28." Mirdha had also been gheraoed by Congressmen from Punjab, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. An isolated but determined Prasada today shot off his fifth letter to Mirdha lamenting the delay in releasing the list. Prasada said he had gone to Lucknow for the list but was told it was not ready. Prasada demanded that Mirdha ensures immediate release of the list. A helpless Mirdha told the Congress high command that he was drawing flak due to "no fault" of his. It appears most lists will be ready by tomorrow after AICC functionaries met at the party headquarters late last night to expedite the party polls. In the absence of the delegates list, the Prasada camp refused to reveal its future strategy. It said it could not contest the polls without knowing the electoral college. Reiterating charges of manipulation and irregularities, the dissidents said senior AICC functionaries were supervising lists themselves, making a mockery of party polls and inner party democracy. AICC general secretary Ambika Soni stoutly denied the charge and said the polls would be free and fair. She wondered how many parties' organisational polls were so transparent. She and a battery of Congress spokespersons today said "others" were "most welcome" to contest elections. While senior leaders like K. Natwar Singh shot down the possibility of rapprochement with Prasada, sources close to Sonia said the option was not being ruled out. Keen to avoid a contest, Sonia-managers are prepared to look into some of Prasada's grievances, but made it clear that a patch-up was subject to two conditions. First, Prasada will have to restrain himself from directly attacking the AICC chief. Second, he should not file nominations before October 28."If he files nomination, then all options for a patch-up will close," a 10 Janpath insider said, adding that Sonia's desire for rapprochement should not be "misunderstood" as weakness.