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December 29, 1997


Sonia takes the plunge

George Iype in New Delhi

Sonia Gandhi finally took the plunge into active politics on Monday by formally announcing that she would campaign for the Congress in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's widow has "acceded to the demand of the Congress Working Committee" which had requested her to campaign for the party in the polls, said a statement from 10, Janpath, Sonia's official residence.

Details of Sonia's tour programme are being worked out by the All India Congress Committee, the statement added.

Sources said Sonia's ''abrupt decision was to arrest the poll-eve exodus of senior leaders from the Congress that has been on the verge of collapse''.

Recent media reports that Sonia is trying to build up "a clandestine liaison with the Bharatiya Janata Party" to protect herself and the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv trusts are also reported to have speeded up her decision.

Among the states where Sonia is expected to address poll rallies are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Sonia's entry has brought fresh hopes to the sinking party led by Sitaram Kesri, sources added. ''There will be a considerable pro-Congress swing in the voting pattern, thanks to Sonia's move.''

They said a dynamic and all-acceptable leader like Sonia will dramatically and radically alter "the Kesri-led Congress into a Sonia-led Congress".

Recent pre-poll surveys have predicted that Sonia remains the electorate's choice as the most preferred Congress leader.

"We now expect a Congress wave," senior leader and CWC member Arjun Singh told Rediff On The Net.

Stating that Sonia has come to the party's rescue at a difficult time, Singh said, "We now have a charismatic leader" whose poll campaigns will have a positive impact on the Congress fortunes.

Singh, who is considered to be instrumental in forcing Sonia to take the final plunge, said her decision will also help all "those who have quit the Congress to re-think and re-join the party".

He said the CWC will now request her to contest the election from any constituency in the country.

But whether Sonia will contest the poll -- especially from the Amethi constituency from where Rajiv Gandhi was elected -- is still unclear.

However, her sudden announcement surprised the Congress leadership, which was in a state of coma after a string of prominent leaders deserted the party in the last few days.

Though Kesri has welcomed Sonia's decision, many in the party believe that hard times lie ahead for him as he is seen to be the main culprit in bringing the Congress to this sorry state of affairs, especially after he pulled the rug from under Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral.

But Kesri loyalist and CWC member R K Dhawan said there will not be any "ego clash" between Kesri and Sonia.

"Kesriji and all the CWC members have been requesting her to take part in the poll campaign. All of us are thankful that Soniaji has accepted our invitation," he told Rediff On The Net.

Many say Sonia's entry is a saving grace for Kesri and his aides who had been struggling to arrest defections. But Congress insiders believe Sonia's decision will be the beginning of another crisis in the party as Kesri is likely to face her wrath sooner than later.

However, the crucial question is whether all the deserters will return to the party because of Sonia's decision.

Congress sources said rebel leaders like Mamata Banerjee, who had been expelled from the party after she launched the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, will now tie up with the Congress. Bannerjee, who is close to Sonia, has been on the verge of signing a poll pact with the BJP.

Likewise, prominent deserters like Suresh Kalmadi, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Ajit Panja, Anadi Charan Sahu, Mohan Delkar and Gopal Tandel might come back to the party fold, claiming Sonia to be their leader.

Sonia's entry a shot in the arm for Congress

Mamata gets the axe
Sonia breaks her silence for Mamata

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