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|October 12, 1999||
Sonia pre-empts rivals within the party
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
An unambiguous acceptance of the responsibility for her party's electoral reverse and the determination not to be cowed down by the Vajpayee government enabled the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to snuff out any challenge from potential dissidents to her unanimous election today as the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party.
Sensing the overwhelming mood of the party's MPs potential challengers like Rajesh Pilot and Kamal Nath apparently thought discretion to be the better part of valour and desisted from sounding any jarring note to the proceedings.
"No, neither Rajesh Pilot nor anybody else made any observations during the CPP meeting which remotely challenged Soniaji's re-election as the CPP chairperson," said party spokesman Kapil Sibal at the AICC Akbar Road headquarters. He was accompanied by the Seva Dal chief Suresh Pachauri, and Pawan Singh Ghatowar.
The bulk of the Congressmen, realising that a party leader of Sonia's charisma and voter appeal was non-existent, rallied behind her. Indeed, as Sibal later pointed out, many Congressmen approached the party chief and told that they had full confidence in her leadership and that she should also take up the mantle of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Of course, by owning "collective responsibility" for the Congress party's poor electoral performance, the party strategists sought to bail out Sonia from taking the entire blame. The Congress leaders till yesterday evening were bracing themselves against talk circulating in party circles that if former Congress chief Sitaram Kesri had to go after the party got 145 parliamentary seats, Sonia had little rationale for continuing as party chief after it got only 112 seats in this election.
However, Sonia preferred to take the bull by the horns and own total responsibility for her party's humiliating defeat rather than pass the buck. This has effectively sent out the signal to the partymen that she is honest and sincere when she raised the issue of introspection.
Sonia's frank appraisal of the political situation and the causes responsible for it was a masterstroke because it effectively snuffed out the incipient challenge to her. "Come on, the Congress has only Soniaji as our unanimous leader, nobody else can hold a candle to her," said Mani Shankar Aiyar, AICC secretary who won from the Myladathurai parliamentary constituency in Tamil Nadu.
His party colleague and senior Congress leader Arjun Singh felt that "Soniaji knows what a true leader is and her speech in the CPP indicates that she has all the attributes of a true leader. She is indispensable."
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