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December 30, 1997


CWC targets Kesri

George Iype in New Delhi

Pressure is mounting on former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia.

Less than 24 hours after Sonia decided to campaign for the Congress in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, the party witnessed a flurry of activity that bodes ill for its president Sitaram Kesri.

Senior Congress Working Committee members met today, ostensibly to seal Kesri's fate. ''Either sideline or remove Kesri as the Congress president,'' they will tell Sonia.

The anti-Kesri campaign in the Sonia camp is led by senior party leader Arjun Singh. He reportedly has the backing of other CWC members like Jitendra Prasada, K Vijayabhaskara Reddy, A K Antony, Madhavrao Scindia, R K Dhawan and Ahmed Patel.

Many in the party believe that her decision will ''make Kesri a sorry figure in the party'' as Sonia will now be regarded as the de facto Congress president. "It will be impossible for Kesri to pretend that he is leading the Congress," a senior leader told Rediff On The NeT.

Sonia is expected to launch a series of initiatives shortly to forge new alliances and restore the morale of the party's rank and file.

Sources said Sonia will lure friendly parties and defectors back to the party fold. Tamil Maanila Congress president G K Moopanar and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav are most likely to join a Congress-led front, if Sonia invites them.

Her supporters said Sonia would perhaps kick off the Congress campaign from Tamil Nadu. In a recent statement in Madras, she said her late husband was very fond of the Tamils and that she did not hold them responsible for his death. She also asked them not to be upset over the Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission's uncharitable remarks against the Tamils.

Stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee, who was expelled from the party after she revolted against Kesri's leadership, would be ready to associate her Trinamool Congress with a Sonia-led front. Mamata has declared time and again that she would accept only Sonia's leadership.

Congress leaders do not discount the possibility of Sonia nominating either Dr Manmohan Singh or Arjun Singh to head the party if the political compulsions and dissension force Kesri to leave the party leadership.

''Sonia's entry is bound to bring about a radical change within the Congress. Wait and see how the Congress is going to be transformed into a new entity under Soniaji," Senior Congress leader K Karunakaran told Rediff On The NeT.

Another senior Congress leader who will be affected by Sonia's decision is Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar as his loyalty to 10, Janpath is questionable.

With many of his associates in Maharashtra leaving him either to join the BJP or to float their own outfits, Pawar might find the going tough as the Sonia-Arjun axis emerges.

As for the party's prospects in the ensuing elections, some Congressmen doubted if Sonia's entry would brighten up the party's chances. ''There are obvious limitations of the dynasty in the current political situation,'' said a senior Congress leader.

Despite the surname's vote-catching potential, even Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had to eat a humble pie in 1977 and 1989 respectively. "Sonia will soon discover the limitations of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty," remarked a close aide of Kesri.

Sonia's poll campaigns, however, will have a bearing on the other parties. Realising this, the Bharatiya Janata Party is certain to make her Italian origin and the Bofors scandal major election issues.

When Sonia starts campaigning, the saffron party will target her Italian origin and the Congress's 'Rome rajya', BJP vice-president K L Sharma told Rediff On The NeT. The BJP promises Ram rajya.

He said Sonia's entry into the electoral arena will be ''a big embarrassment for the Congress'' as the involvement of Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors scandal would once again be on the national agenda.

Sharma added that a Sonia-led Congress would not have any adverse impact on the BJP's poll prospects.

Sonia takes the plunge
Sonia's entry a shot in the arm for Congress
Mamata gets the axe
Sonia breaks her silence for Mamata

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