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June 13, 2000
Dissidents assess their losses after Pilot's death
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Congress leader Rajesh Pilot's untimely death has robbed potential party dissidents of the 'adhesive' which bound them together. Party president Sonia Gandhi's hold on party affairs is bound to tighten and those Congressmen, who found 'inspiration' in Pilot's courage to question her authority and her policies, are left high and dry.
"Rajesh Pilot was the only party leader about whom Soniaji had some apprehension. Especially, after his participation in the Jhansi and Lucknow rallies where he and some other party leaders had criticised the leadership," confirmed a party general secretary not wishing to be identified.
Pilot had met Sonia two days ago to clear doubts about his recent political moves. He had underlined that there was nothing wrong in his questioning the party's economic policies as they were adversely affecting the rural poor. He refused to keep quiet if people continued to suffer.
However, now the pendulum has swung in Sonia's favour. Pilot was the only party leader who could challenge her authority (some media reports stressed that he was planning to contest the organisational polls in September). Congress leaders, who were clandestinely extending support to Pilot's 'dissident' activities, neither have the stature or the guts to take on Sonia, unlike the deceased Member of Parliament from Dausa.
It would be worthwhile to go through the list of Congressmen whose political game-plan has gone awry with Pilot's death.
Topping the list is senior party leader Jitendra Prasada, deputy party chief in Uttar Pradesh. Ever since Sonia appointed Prasada's arch-rival Salman Khursheed as the UP party chief, Prasada has been gunning for him. The animosity increased after Khursheed was re-appointed party chief.
On the face of it, the two have been maintaining a 'working relation', but Congressmen know better. Only a fortnight ago, Khursheed had lashed out at Prasada and Pilot for participating in the Jhansi and Lucknow rallies, saying that those who did not approve of the party's policies were welcome to walk out.
Sonia's re-election as party president is now, more or less, certain. However, Prasada had earlier told rediff.com that he would fight tooth and nail for ensuring that the party's 'downslide' under Khursheed was stopped, hinting that he was even willing to take on Sonia if it came to political survival.
K Vijaybhaskar Reddy, former union minister and chairman of the party's disciplinary action committee, is another loser. Still sulking in Hyderabad after being denied a Rajya Sabha nomination by the party chief, Reddy virtually refused to summon the DAC to initiate action against perceived dissidents, including Pilot. But now, Congressmen say, it is only a matter of time before Reddy comes around and falls in line.
Another former union minister and senior Congressman Vasant Sathe created a sensation when he wrote a critical article on Sonia in the party journal Sandesh. He wrote: Soniaji has been and continues to be fully aware of her own limitations, both inherent and circumstantial. She has never made any claim to having the charismatic capacity to single-handedly get the masses of India to vote the Congress to power, as if with a magic wand. Her natural reserve and shy nature was a great handicap with the media and the intellectual elite. Language was one of the major hurdles.
For a party that swears by Sonia, the article came as a shock. There were mummers in Congress circles of Sathe being a 'mole' of the dissidents, led by Pilot. But the consummate politician that he is, Sathe immediately tried to mend fences with Sonia by singing her praises.
Then, there are 'lesser mortals' like Kapil Sibal, Natwar Singh and other who were denied RS berths, including former party chief Sitaram Kesri who continue to fire salvos against her. Kesri, who is an octogenarian, can make all the noise he wants because he is perceived to be a 'spent force'.
For others, like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, Pilot was the only hope. They are overawed by Sonia and bound to fall in line once the party leadership cracks the whip.
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