Virendra Kapoor

The circus at 10 Janpath ended as dictated by the pre- ordained script. The rent-a-crowd rallies, the mock self- immolation, the so-called pledge in blood, those fake fasts- unto-death, and empty threats by tens of party faithfuls to commit suicide by jumping off trees in the compound of the adjoining bungalow which serves as the headquarters of the Congress party, were all props necessary to bolster the impact of the drama.

But only the naive and the political morons had entertained doubts about the outcome of the orchestrated show. Everyone else knew Sonia would return to a Congress rendered far more supine than when the drama had begun on Sunday, May 16.

The backroom handlers of Sonia -- the same guys who write the script for her to read on the podium and who practically act as her eyes and ears, and control access to her -- were keen to exploit the rebellion by Pawar and Co in order to weed out the lingering trace of independent thinking, if any, in the party. At the end of nine days of an expensively mounted charade they have had their way.

Like it or not, the most powerful man in the Congress after Sonia is neither Arjun Singh nor Pranab Mukherjee nor, for that matter, any other Congress leader, but her private secretary Vincent George.

Every Congress leader plays court to George. Since George acts as the gatekeeper to her, he in many ways is far more important than even Sonia. Not everyone can access George who has a bevy of aides of his own. People like Arjun Singh strut their act in the Congress not because they have unrestricted access to Sonia but due to their perceived proximity to her PA.

Violence on tap, Congress style

On the fateful day when the Congress Working Committee was scheduled to meet to decide on action against the rebels, Vincent George and a handful of Sonia's other minders were apprehensive about the stand a couple of CWC members might take on the issue of their expulsion. So they directed a state Congress chief to summon some raucous roughnecks.

Keen to humour George in order to get himself elevated to the CWC, this gentleman allegedly used his contacts and, pronto, goons from north India made their presence felt at the party headquarters.

So when the CWC met that evening to decide on the action against the rebels for their reasoned, nay, stirring letter to Sonia, as per the sub-plot, the goons waylaid former Congress chief Sitaram Kesri. He was pushed, abused in most filthy language, his clothes were torn and his topi removed.

Kesri's spectacles fell on the ground and the windowpanes of his car smashed by the rowdies.

In the orgy of abuse and physical intimidation, the goons waylaid a few more CWC members while most others chose to sneak through the backdoor. Both Jitendra Prasada and Rajesh Pilot were subjected to choicest invective and pushed around, for the 10 Janpath establishment had spread the word that the two were sympathetic to the Pawar platform.

Even R K Dhawan, who has always acted as the doormat of whosoever is the Congress boss -- be it P V Narasimha Rao or Kesri or now Sonia -- was not spared.

Finally, on making it to the room where the CWC meeting was to be held, a very shaken Kesri, huffing and puffing from the shoves and pushes he was subjected to by the Sonia loyalists, lay himself prostrate on the ground. A couple of CWC members tried to bring their former chief round while he cried openly.

When he finally stood up, his dhoti came off. The task of tying up his dhoti was assigned to Sushil Kumar Shinde who tried to tie it up at the back when someone pointed out that it was in the front that it required tucking in.

This done, it was Dhawan's turn to discover that the goons had removed his expensive Swiss-made wristwatch. The watch was later retrieved, but only after the vandals had damaged it out of shape.

Playing on her fears

In his anxiety to curry favour with Sonia, Arjun Singh may have unwittingly marred the chances of a truce between the Gandhi family and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. By raking up the issue of Sonia's security at a specially convened press conference on May 23, he has derailed the tentative contacts established between the LTTE and Sonia's representatives.

Admittedly, Singh was not aware of the renewed threat to Sonia from the LTTE. His aim was to settle old scores with his old foe, P V Narasimha Rao, by exploiting the statement of one of the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case.

Acquitted recently by the Supreme Court, this man had spoken of a larger conspiracy involving Chandra Swami. Since Rao and Chandra Swami are known to be close, Singh was keen to embarrass the former PM, little realising that the Vajpayee government had already informed Sonia about an LTTE plot against her.

Following the unearthing of the plot, tentative contacts were established between Sonia's representatives and the LTTE. Btw, three months before Rajiv's assassination, a senior Madras journalist had arranged a meeting between a key LTTE official and the Congress leader. The LTTE never reconciled itself to the fact that Rajiv, who had helped train them, arm them and fund them, could a few months later set the Indian army upon them.

Anyway with Sonia entering politics, the LTTE was keen to smoke the peace pipe with her when Singh went public with his grudge against Rao and acted as a spoiler.

Old not gold in BJP

The old fogies in the BJP are an angry lot. For, in this age of colour television and 20-second sound bytes, they are being told to make themselves scarce from prying hordes of television cameramen. And not to participate in television debates.

But party spokesman J P Mathur and Krishan Lal Sharma cannot resist the temptation to be seen on television. Mathur, in fact, refuses to resign as party spokesman despite oblique hints by the Arun Shourie-led media cell in the BJP.

Capital Buzz