January 2, 1998
YEH HAI INDIA!
Chacha plays an ace to kill rivals's designs on Sonia
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
For every trick, there is a countertrick. And Sitaram Kesri,
the grand old man of rug-pulling, knows 'em all by-heart.
Thus, it's but natural that he was ready
with a countercard to his rivals
latest efforts -- namely, sidling up to the party's star-campaigner Sonia Gandhi and murmuring unsweet somethings about him.
The forwards in this game
are mainly the 'numerous' followers of P V Narasimha Rao. Like Matang Singh, S S Ahluwalia etc. Their aim: a nice, sweet pat on the back from the lady for selves, and a swift, sharp kick in the back for Kesri.
But, like we said, every trick has a countertrick. And Chacha has already played his.
Kesri's response, according to close aides, was three-pronged. First, urgent missives
to state party chiefs, ordering them to invite Sonia to come campaigning in their respective
states. The invitations, Chacha made clear, should mention clearly that it was he who had asked them for the lady's presence.
Second, orders to faithfuls like
All India Congress Committee general secretary Madhavrao Scindia to move heaven, hell and earth to reopen the Kesri-Sonia channel and convey that should she desire
to become the prime ministerial candidate, the party chief would
not stand in the way.
("The Rao camp's main cry in Sonia's ears," sources say, "was that Kesri did not want her to become the PM. In fact, Rao himself had stated Sonia's foray had 'brightened' the Congress prospects in an obvious attempt to make Kesri relinquish his stranglehold on his ambition -- what they wanted was to make him put on record that the PM candidate was Sonia, not he.")
Third, Kesri has got his supporters to launch a whisper-campaign against
Rao, Matang Singh and the like, underlining
how they had conspired to keep Sonia from entering
the political arena.
Now for a quick look at what's happening in the United Front: The steering committee has decided Asom Gana Parishad chief and Assam Chief
Minister Prafaulla Kumar Mahanta is too valuable a force to desert.
"The charges against him are all
hypothetical," UF spokesman S Jaipal Reddy told newsmen.
As for Sonia and her great plunge, Reddy said the UF was not at all worried. "No cause for alarm," he said, "The people's response to us is positive and massive."
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