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Will Sonia's return put Congress back on track?

By Renu Mittal
September 08, 2011 23:01 IST
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With the return of Sonia Gandhi there is anticipation that despite her status-quo approach on most issues, she may finally decide to move and put the derailed party and government back on track, says Renu Mittal.

After undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness in New York, Congress President Sonia Gandhi returned to Delhi at 3 am on Thursday morning.

Her return after 5 weeks, however, does not appear to have brought her back in the best of health with a senior party leader saying she has been advised complete rest by her doctors.

Sources say Sonia Gandhi returned in a jet airliner converted into an ambulance and equipped with the latest gadgets. It is also learnt that the journey was broken in London, as doctors have advised her not to undertake the long journey from the United States to India in a single stretch. However, this information could not be confirmed.

Despite her health issue, Sonia Gandhi is expected to meet the prime minister, the President and select party leaders in the next few days. There is increased anticipation in the Congress party over how things will shape up after the Congress president's return. Will she be able to function full-time as the party president or will she retire and become the "guiding force" of the party and anoint Rahul Gandhi as the working or acting president... are some of the questions being asked.

Senior leaders say that because of her poor health, she would need to empower Rahul Gandhi with some official authority if the party has to run smoothly. There is some talk in the party that with Sonia Gandhi unlikely to function as a full-time president, politically savvy Congress leaders have started positioning themselves to explore their options in the changed Congress set up.

An example is Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who after the introduction of the Land Acquisition bill in Parliament, didn't forget to give credit to Rahul Gandhi saying that if it had not been for Rahul Gandhi, the bill would not have seen the light of day.

But senior leaders say that the Congress president would need to act, and possibly act quickly to put the United Progressive Alliance government back on track. 

The Congress president has returned on a day when Parliament was adjourned sine die and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani once again sought to project himself as a future prime minister announcing that he would be launching yet another rath yatra soon, this time on the issue of corruption. Congress alleged that the 83-year-old is becoming increasingly impatient and does not want to wait for the 2014 general elections.

Many Congressmen think that Advani and many others sense the sense of disquiet within the ruling party and are hopeful that further deterioration of relations between 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road may lead to the fall of the government and bring about a mid-term election.

Giving in to that hope, Advani has decided to take to the street, possibly inspired by social activist Anna Hazare, and make his yatra the next blockbuster television event, thereby projecting himself as BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

Congress leaders say Advani's hope has come alive because of the mismanagement and divisive signals that the ruling party is sending out. In the absence of Sonia Gandhi, the situation worsened in the last one month when it looked like there was no command centre in the Congress and the government under Dr Manmohan Singh could not act politically and decisively on the Anna Hazare crisis. Senior leaders were left out of the decision making process and instead the prime minister relied on a small group to put matters right.

In the last five weeks since Sonia Gandhi was away, the monsoon session of Parliament turned out to be much more eventful than it may have been anticipated. There is speculation that both Home Minister P Chidambaram and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh are in trouble over the 2G scam with Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam Raja threatening to have the prime minister summoned in court.

A section of political observers consider the just concluded monsoon session to be of great significance. The events which have taken place in the last 5 weeks may have far reaching consequences for the Indian polity and particularly the Congress party and the government it is heading.

The events include the Anna Hazare versus government tussle, Sonia Gandhi's illness and operation being kept a highly guarded secret and underplayed with great care by the Congress, the closure of the cash-for-vote scam that took place 3 years ago, terror returning to haunt the capital, even Mamta Banerjee cocked a snook at the prime minister refusing to accompany him to Bangladesh.

There is visible anger against the government and in the midst of it; the Gandhi family has withdrawn itself into the shadows, allowing events to play themselves out.

Now with the return of Sonia Gandhi there is anticipation that despite her status-quo approach on most issues, she may finally decide to move and put the derailed party and government back on track. If that fails, Rahul Gandhi's dream of putting up a credible performance in Uttar Pradesh would be the first casualty, followed by increasing anarchy in the Congress with various sections pulling in different directions.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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