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March 17, 1998

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Pressure on Sonia to enter Rajya Sabha

George Iype in New Delhi

A day after she took total control of the party, Congress president Sonia Gandhi began hectic consultations with party colleagues in a move to overhaul the All India Congress Committee and the apex Congress Working Committee.

She met the party's newly-appointed leaders in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha -- Sharad Pawar and Dr Manmohan Singh -- at her home in the morning. A host of senior leaders like Arjun Singh, Vijayabhaskara Reddy, Madhavrao Scindia and Ghulam Nabi Azad also subsequently called on the party's supreme leader.

Party sources disclosed that the stream of Congress leaders who visited Sonia on Tuesday requested her to become a member of Parliament through the Rajya Sabha route. A biennial election to the Upper House are to be held in April, and senior Congress leaders want Sonia to be nominated as an MP.

"The second elevation of Sonia as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party has completed the process of her total takeover of the party. Now she has emerged as the most important leader among the non-Bharatiya Janata Party entities," a senior Congress leader told Rediff On The NeT.

Therefore, he said, "It is imperative that Sonia become a Rajya Sabha MP in keeping with the stature of the CPP chairperson."

The post of CPP chairperson was created for the first time by amending the party constitution to enable Sonia's mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, to head the CPP after she lost the Lok Sabha election from Rae Bareilly in 1977.

But the post was abolished a year later -- in 1978 -- when Indira Gandhi entered the Lok Sabha after winning the by-election from Chikmagalur.

Congress leaders insist that since Sonia does not plan to contest the Lok Sabha election, she should be made a Rajya Sabha member forthwith. Party sources said Sonia has not positively responded to this idea.

Sonia herself has already reversed the Congress party's stated policy of denying for one year, a Rajya Sabha nomination to any leader who has lost a Lok Sabha election. In a surprising move, she named close aides Oscar Fernandes and Santosh Mohan Deb as Congress candidates to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka and Assam respectively on Monday. Fernandes lost the Lok Sabha election from Udupi and Deb from Silchar.

CWC member and Sonia confidant Arjun Singh, who was also defeated from Hoshangabad, is also expected to get a Rajya Sabha berth soon.

However, Sonia's single point agenda now is to revamp the party machinery. Party sources pointed out that she will overhaul the AICC and CWC only after April 4, when the AICC convenes in New Delhi to ratify her election as Congress president.

The need to revamp the two top official wings of the party is to ensure that Sonia replaces some of former party president Sitaram Kesri's supporters and pack the organisation with her own nominees. "Sonia wants to improve the appearance of the party," a source close to Sonia told Rediff On The NeT.

The AICC now has a vice-president, Jitendra Prasada, and five general secretaries --Madhavrao Scindia, R K Dhawan, Meira Kumar, Oscar Fernandes and Tariq Anwar. While Scindia, Kumar and Fernandes are close to Sonia, both Dhawan and Anwar are likely to be axed as they are considered Kesri loyalists.

Sonia is also expected to sack some of the 17 joint secretaries in the AICC and appoint a host of young faces in the organisational set-up.

The CWC now has 17 members including Sonia. While 10 CWC members were officially elected, six of them were nominated by Kesri -- Dr Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, Meira Kumar, Oscar Fernandes, J B Patnaik and Lalthanhawla.

Sources said none of the nominated CWC members will be affected when Sonia overhauls the party machinery as all of them are considered loyal and non-controversial.

But the new party president is likely to nominate at least four more senior Congress leaders to the CWC. The contenders include Sonia loyalists like K Karunakaran, Satish Sharma, Margaret Alva, Balram Jakhar and Rajesh Pilot.

Elections '98

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