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March 26, 1998

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Rumblings in Congress over Sonia favouring confidants

George Iype in New Delhi

There are rumblings of discontent in the Congress over party president Sonia Gandhi's decision to favour some of her friends and ignore others. Senior leaders who have been at the receiving end are naturally incensed over her decisions.

The immediate trigger for the discontent is Sonia's decision to appoint a five-member panel to draft the political resolution for the All India Congress Committee session to be held in the first week of April.

The panel, chaired by Sonia herself, has as its members Sharad Pawar, Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Dr Manmohan Singh and Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy.

However, senior leaders like Jitendra Prasada, K Karunakaran, R K Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad are reportedly unhappy over their non-inclusion in the committee that will draft the crucial political resolution to be adopted during the AICC session.

The political resolution is likely to attack many of the political programmes of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government at the Centre. It will also mock at the "so-called consensus politics" of the BJP which led to the defeat of Congress candidate Purno A Sangma as Lok Sabha Speaker.

Sonia's decision to appoint former Union minister P Shiv Shankar as deputy leader in the Lok Sabha has also not gone down well with many MPs who aspired for the post. Last week, Sonia had selected Pawar and Dr Singh as party leaders in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.

Congress sources said Madhavrao Scindia, the MP from Gwalior, who nursed the ambition to become Congress Parliamentary Party leader in the Lower House, wished very much to get nominated as the deputy leader at least.

Not only was he denied this post, he has also not been included in the committee to draft the resolution for the AICC session.

"Some senior leaders feel Sonia is being partial. But nobody -- however senior he may be -- dares to question her decisions at this juncture," a Congress official said. He told Rediff On The NeT that there will be "order and obedience in the party till the AICC session."

"But Sonia's real test will begin when various leaders start protesting after she revamps the AICC and the state Congress units during the session," he added.

Sonia's decision to reverse the party's policy of denying for one year, Rajya Sabha nominations to any leader who lost the Lok Sabha election has angered many in the Congress. In a surprising move, she chose her close aides Oscar Fernandes and Santosh Mohan Deb as Congress candidates to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka and Assam respectively last week.

Sonia is now finetuning her strategy to overhaul the AICC and the apex Congress Working Committee. While some general secretaries like Dhawan and Tariq Anwar are expected to be shown the door, she is all set to bring young faces to the forefront by axing some joint secretaries.

The CWC now has 17 members including Sonia. While 10 CWC members were elected, six of them -- Dr Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, Meira Kumar, Oscar Fernandes, J B Patnaik and Lalthanhawla -- were nominated by ousted party president Sitaram Kesri.

While all the nominated members are likely to resign as is the custom whenever a new party president is elected, it is expected that Sonia will bring all of them back to the CWC as they are considered to be her favourites.

Sonia is also expected to nominate more members to the CWC. The aspirants to the coveted CWC posts include Sonia loyalists like Karunakaran, Satish Sharma, Margaret Alva, Balram Jakhar and Rajesh Pilot.

The AICC session will be held on April 6 at Siri Fort auditorium, instead of the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi as announced earlier, Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes said on Wednesday.

The AICC is being convened to ratify Sonia's election as the Congress president. Kesri is likely to formally submit his resignation to the 1,200-member AICC.

Elections '98

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