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Post Pranab, Sonia leads from the front

August 09, 2012 21:47 IST

Away from the public glare, the Gandhis and the Mukherjees had a very private dinner at the country's most well-known address – the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

On Tuesday night, the eve of the Monsoon Session of Parliament, President Pranab Mukherjee invited Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for dinner. Also invited were daughter Priyanka and her husband Robert Vadra and son Rahul Gandhi.  Priyanka's children also accompanied their parents. Sources at the Rashtrapati Bhuvan neither denied nor confirmed the meeting.

From the Mukherjee side, his wife, two sons and their wives and daughter Sharmistha were present. Keeping in mind the fact that Sonia eats very simple food now after her illness, the menu consisted of soup, salad, roti, dal, chicken, mutton and dessert. It was normal basic fare with not too many frills and fancies.

It is interesting that just the day after the dinner, Sonia led the charge from the treasury benches against the opposition and its leader L K Advani, and delivered a knockout punch which became the day's headlines.

On the opening day of the Monsoon Session, Sonia Gandhi arrived early and took charge. She not only took on Advani but was constantly directing her party members of Parliament and ministers to take on Advani and not let him off the hook.

It seems Sonia is taking on the responsibility Pranab da's absence in giving directions to the government. She seems to be the 'de facto' leader of the House.

On the second day of the session also, she spent a long time in the House, making sure nothing went wrong. It appears clear that having watched Pranab handling the House and the leaders over the last eight years, she is now likely to play a more active and pro-active role in the running and managing of the Lok Sabha and would not leave it to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to handle the situation, who had to apologise to Jaya Bachchan in Rajya Sabha on the very second day of him taking charge of his new duties.

Sources say that while she is already interacting more with allies, she may take over the task of ensuring better co-ordination with other opposition leaders and meet them more frequently to iron out the glitches.

As one senior leader commented, "The kind of respect which Pranab da commanded and which she also commands by the nature of her seniority, is not possible with Shinde or even Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal while Finance Minister P Chidambaram is seen as too arrogant by many leaders though they openly admit that he is certainly competent."

Senior ministers of the government such as Chidambaram, who has been targetted by the opposition, and, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, whose bills were not allowed to be passed, had one on one meetings with BJP leaders Arun Jaitly, Sushma Swaraj and Advani to ask for their support and co-operation in having their bills passed and the smooth functioning of the two houses of Parliament during the Monsoon Session.

It's clear that in Pranab's absence, Sonia is leading from the front.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi