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May 20, 1999
CWC expels threesome for six years
George Iype in New Delhi
Five days after they questioned Sonia Gandhi's credentials to become the prime minister of India, the three high profile rebel leaders -- Sharad Pawar, P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar -- were expelled from the prime membership of the Congress for six years.
The axing order came after the apex Congress Working Committee that met in Gandhi's absence on Thursday concluded that the dissident trio deliberately maligned the party president by raking up an unnecessary issue -- her Italian origin.
But throwing out Pawar, Sangma and Anwar has not settled the turmoil that has gripped the party ever since Gandhi resigned as party president three days ago.
Despite immense persuasion from senior leaders and CWC members, Gandhi remained adamant and showed no signs that she would withdraw her resignation immediately.
Indication that she is in no mood to relent came after Gandhi cancelled all her public programmes organised by the party on Friday, the eight-death anniversary of her husband Rajiv Gandhi.
But soon after the CWC meeting, senior Congress leaders claimed now that the rebels have been expelled from the party for opposing her prime ministerial candidature, Gandhi would certainly agree to resume charge as party president.
Congress sources said that CWC members who met throughout Thursday at the residence of senior leader Pranab Mukherjee were "sharply divided" on the issue of expelling the three rebels.
Some in the apex policy making body -- notably Rajesh Pilot, Meira Kumar, Jitendra Prasada and Gulam Nabi Azad -- argued that the party should issue a showcause notice to the dissidents by suspending them for the time being.
But Gandhi loyalists like Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, R K Dhawan and K Karunakaran, vetoed the argument by pushing for the expulsion of these leaders.
They warned that Gandhi supporters who are on a hunger strike outside her residence could "torch the Congress headquarters and beat up the CWC members" if Pawar, Sangma and Anwar were not immediately expelled for forcing Sonia to resign.
Loyalists of 10, Janpath also recommended that since the main reason for Gandhi's feelings of hurt was the silent campaign that is on in the party against her foreign origin, all those dissenters who feign allegiance to her should also be axed.
"Soniaji has been an emotionally upset as some leaders whom she trusted in the past one year are trying to torpedo her leadership through the backdoor," Arjun Singh is reported to have remarked during an informal CWC meeting at Mukherjee's residence.
Therefore, Singh suggested that, if the party goes by the loyalty test to Gandhi's leadership, some more leaders should be added to the kitty of expulsions. In the list reportedly included the names of Pilot, Meira Kumar, Prasada, Azad, former party president Sitaram Kesri and former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao.
However, this suggestion was abandoned as most CWC members, the four state chief ministers and some state unit Congress presidents felt that the party should just axe Pawar, Sangma and Anwar for the time being.
"There was a consensus within the party that these three leaders should be expelled for throwing the party into an unprecedented crisis," CWC member K Karunakaran told Rediff On The Net soon after the CWC meeting.
He said though Sonia's sense of deep hurt and resignation also influenced the decision to expel these leaders, primarily "it has been a punishment for denigrating Gandhi's leadership in public."
But what has upset most leaders now is how will the party -- which now Gandhi refuses to head -- tackle the growing convulsions in the wake of the three top leaders' expulsion. "Gandhi's resignation as well as the expulsion of a leader like Pawar are the most ill-timed decisions in the recent Congress history," a senior Congress leader commented.
He said the party ranks and files are getting "restive" because the melo-drama and sympathy that Gandhi's resignation has caused are soon petering out.
"It is a tragedy that the Congress is caught in such a pathetic state of affairs on the eve of elections," he lamented.
Political observers believe that expulsion of the rebel trio would only help them draw up their anti-Sonia platform soon.
While Pawar is expected to be back in Delhi on Saturday to float a new party and give shape to a fresh political realignment, Sangma landed in the capital on Thursday night after a private visit to the United States.
A meeting of these three leaders are now expected on Saturday in New Delhi.
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