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Signals from Sonia's aggressive attacks on the BJP

Last updated on: August 30, 2012 09:02 IST

Signals from Sonia's aggressive attacks on the BJP

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Neerja Chowdhury

Neerja Chowdhury said the Congress president's uncharacteristic attack on the BJP in Parliament and outside may indicate that she, not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, may lead the Congress on the 2014 general election.

Implicit in Sonia Gandhi's clarion call to her partymen to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party's 'blackmailing' politics aggressively in the contest of coalgate, is a hint that that there is no leadership vacuum in the Congress and that she will be leading her party into the 2014 elections.

These were reassuring words for Congressmen and women. For it is clear that Dr Manmohan Singh will not be leading his party's campaign in the next general elections, and though surveys project it as a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi fight, it is not clear what kind of a role Rahul envisages for himself in 2014.

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Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi
Photographs: Reuters

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Signals from Sonia's aggressive attacks on the BJP

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With the BJP sharpening its attack on the Congress -- demanding the PM's resignation in coalgate, determined to stall Parliament till he has quit, calling for a cancellation of all the coal blocks that were allocated, and with Sushma Swaraj even going to the extent of accusing the Congress of cornering 'mota maal' in the Rs 1.86 lakh crore presumptive loss pegged by the CAG -- the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi has decided to take the BJP head on.

Besides Sonia's call to her party colleagues not to be deflected by the opposition's 'intemperate Congress bashing', and to fight back 'aggressively', the Congress' new found assertion was also evident in the PM's statement in both Houses, despite the din created by the Opposition.

So also in Kapil Sibal's rebuttal of the BJP's charge, point by point, tracing the history of the allocation of coal blocks, reiterating that the UPA was carrying on an earlier policy, and that it was the PM who had made a case for opting for the more transparent auction route.

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Image: Union Minister Kapil Sibal
Photographs: Reuters

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Signals from Sonia's aggressive attacks on the BJP

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What is more, though the BJP is not allowing Parliament to function for the second week in a row, the Congress does not seem to be in a mood to adjourn both houses sine die, which was being contemplated earlier. It is inclined to pass several bills, which have been pending, even if it has to be done amidst sound and fury. It does not want to give the impression, by adjourning the house earlier, that it has lost control and is being pushed around by the opposition.

Shedding its earlier tentativeness, the Congress seems to have decided that offence is the best form of defence.

The turning point came when Sonia Gandhi took on L K Advani for describing UPA II as 'illegitimate' at the start of the monsoon session, and her strident counter-attack had led to his taking back his words -- in the process bringing cheer to her demoralised party MPs, who had initially sat struck into silence by the BJP's attack.

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Image: Senior BJP leader L K Advani
Photographs: Reuters

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Signals from Sonia's aggressive attacks on the BJP

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As UPA II progressed into its second term, buffeted around by a host of scams, it had become increasingly clear that some of its travails stemmed from the absence of a leadership which led from the front. The PM seemed to be shrinking into himself. There was reluctance on the part of Rahul Gandhi to take charge.

This had led to a situation, in which several senior leaders started to position themselves for the top job, were such an eventuality to arise. In many ways, this was responsible for the many 'exposes' that hit the Congress in the face, thanks to the 'leaks' inspired from within the system. It was unusual for scam after scam to tumble out with such a relentless speed.

Then it seemed that Rahul would play a 'bigger' role, following the mother of all battles fought earlier this year in UP. But after the Congress' defeat, Rahul Gandhi seemed to retreat into a shell.

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Image: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi
Photographs: Reuters

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However, not long ago, Rahul himself indicated that he was ready for a bigger role, and that this would be decided by his 'two bosses', the Congress president and the prime minister. But its contours have still not been defined.

With Pranab Mukherjee gone to Rashtrapati Bhavan, no other leader has stepped into his shoes, on the way to becoming that powerful. P Chidambaram is given finance and troubleshoots for the party, but he was not made Leader of the Lok Sabha.

Sushil Kumar Shinde was made home minister and made leader of the Lok Sabha, but not made a member of the apex core committee of the Congress which decides critical issues.

A K Antony is number two in government, who will preside over meetings in the absence of the prime minister, but without being designated as such.

In any case, none of them is likely to lead the Congress into the next general elections. And given the ambiguity about Rahul Gandhi's role -- there are some in the party who believe that it would be foolish to push him to play a frontal role at a time when the party is on the back foot -- it will be Sonia Gandhi who comes to the fore again. Her ill-health and her surgery last year had made take a step back, as she left many decisions to her aides. But that seems now to be changing.

Sonia has to worry not just about the 2014 general elections but about the nine assembly poll which are due in the next one year. Just as the BJP is upping its ante, because it has a major stake in these assemblies -- like Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan -- and has everything to gain from damaging the Congress party, the Congress too has to high stakes in these states.

In most of these states, it is pitted against the BJP as its main opponent.

The outcome in these will set the tone for the general elections that follow

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Image: Defence Minister A K Antony
Photographs: Reuters

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