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May 17, 1999
CWC implores Sonia not to quit
George Iype in New Delhi
Jolted by dissent from top party colleagues Sharad Pawar, Purno Agitok Sangma and Tariq Anwar on the issue of her 'foreigner' status, Sonia Gandhi today tendered her resignation as Congress president.
But the apex Congress Working Committee rejected her offer and rallied behind Gandhi, imploring her not to leave the party after leading it to rejuvenation in the past one year.
Gandhi's dramatic and unexpected move came at the CWC meeting that was convened at 1930 IST today to discuss the controversial letter written by Pawar, Sangma and Anwar opposing her candidature for the prime minister's post because of her Italian roots.
Pawar, Sangma and Anwar did not attend the CWC meeting for various reasons. But the Congress president, who walked into the CWC meeting at 1930 IST, walked out exactly seven minutes later after submitting her two-page resignation letter.
She began addressing the CWC by stating that she was "upset and pained" by the campaign launched by senior leaders in whom she had "complete faith and trust".
But she said she was "hurt" by the comments made by these leaders during the CWC meeting on Saturday on her foreign origins and therefore "penned down her thoughts" that night itself.
She then handed over the two-page letter of her "thoughts" at the end of which Gandhi said she wished to relinquish the post of Congress president.
Before the CWC members had a chance to react, she rose and walked out to her nearby 10 Janpath residence.
Shaken by Gandhi's move, some CWC members rushed after her to her house, urging her to return to the meeting. But she refused.
The CWC then continued its meeting under the leadership of Pranab Mukherjee and rejected Gandhi's resignation offer, reposed its faith in her, and requested her to lead the party.
"We fully share the anguish of Soniaji and understand the deep feelings of commitments she has for the country and the Congress party," the CWC resolution turning down Gandhi's resignation said.
"Apart from the personal feelings of all of us, we would like her to reflect on the fate of the Congress party once she demits office," it added.
The CWC also rejected Pawar, Sangma and Anwar's demand that Gandhi give up her "ambition" to become the prime minister of India.
It adopted a resolution saying the Pawar camp's action had helped the Bharatiya Janata Party in its "slanderous and malicious campaign" against the Congress president.
Gandhi's resignation drama has thrown the Congress into disarray with most senior leaders now openly demanding the immediate expulsion of Pawar, Sangma and Anwar for "revolting" against the party president and "denigrating" her.
"The insincere and unfortunate letter questioning Soniaji's credibility forced her to resign as Congress president. Therefore, immediate action should be taken against them," CWC member R K Dhawan told Rediff On The NeT.
He said Congress politicians and workers "cannot think of Soniaji deserting us at this crucial juncture. Therefore, those who have caused her resignation should be expelled from the party immediately."
But Gandhi loyalists said her decision to resign is a well-thought-out strategic move to divert the controversial subject of heated debate within the party - her foreign origin.
They feel the drama, instead of weakening her, will only help Gandhi further reinforce her hold on the Congress.
"Sonia knows the Congress cannot do without her at this juncture as she is the only star poll campaigner who can bring votes for the party in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election," a Gandhi aide told Rediff On The NeT.
He said Gandhi's offer to quit as party president is "the best way to completely isolate Pawar and company". "It will also ensure that no other Congress leader will now join the Pawar camp because she has set off a sympathy wave within the party," the aide added.
While the CWC and state Congress units are likely to succeed in the next few days to force Gandhi to change her mind, the party is keenly awaiting the next move from Pawar, Sangma and Anwar.
Congressmen say Pawar, who met his supporters from Maharashtra throughout Monday, soliciting support, has only one option left to him - to leave the party.
Gandhi is no mood to expel the trio as that would considerably damage the party's image.
Pawar's supporters claim that the former defence minister is now readying to split the Congress and form a regional party in Maharashtra that will team up with other regional and third front allies like the Samajwadi Party and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Pawar is said to be in constant touch with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalitha to form a new alliance of regional parties.
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