The men who MATTER in the Congress
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's A-Team -- the men who will run the party in her absence -- has some surprising inclusions and omissions.
Gandhi will be away in the United States for two to three weeks for her hush-hush surgery. The Congress leaders in her core team may well hold the key to the future of the party -- and of India's politics.
Rediff.com takes a look at the men who have found a place in the Congress team and those who have been left out in the cold.
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Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi
IN: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi
No surprises here! Rahul Gandhi -- otherwise known as the man who will be India's prime minister in 2014 -- is one of the four members of the team who will look after party affairs in Sonia;s absence.
Gandhi is being slowly and surely groomed to take over the mantle of the party and eventually, the central government, believe political experts.
According to reports, the Congress general secretary will be the man at the helm of affairs in the powerful committee.
IN: Defence Minister A K Antony
At a time when every second Congress leader is facing allegations of one massive scam or the other, Antony stands out with his spotlessly clean image.
Antony, who has a track record of being honest and loyal, has always been a member of Sonia Gandhi's inner coterie.
Antony has retained the crucial defence ministry portfolio for nearly seven years. He, along with Sonia's political secretary Ahmed Patel, is the constant factor at every high-level meeting that takes place at 10, Janpath.
IN: Political Secretary Ahmed Patel
On paper, Patel is merely the political secretary of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Off the record, he is probably THE most powerful person in the party today, after Gandhi and Rahul.
Like former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar recently stated in his inimitable style, "Those with some hope of getting their work done visit 23, Willingdon Crescent," referring to the residence of Patel.
Patel, Gandhi's right-hand man, was recently nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.
IN: Congress spokesperson Janardan Dwivedi
Dwivedi shot into the limelight when he became the party's spokesperson in 2009. He comes across as a restrained and more informed spokesperson as compared to his overenthusiastic colleagues like Manish Tiwari and Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
While Dwivedi's inclusion in Gandhi's core team may be an indication of his rising stature, his recent faux pas might just prompt Gandhi to reconsider her decision.
Talking about Gandhi's surgery on Thursday, Dwivedi told media persons, "We have just got information that the surgery is successful and her condition is satisfactory".
He was later forced to clarify that the surgery has not yet been carried out and that it could take place in a day or two.
OUT: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
He is the leader of the Congress Legislature Party. He also happens to be India's prime minister. But in Gandhi's core Congress team, there is no place for Dr Manmohan Singh.
Gandhi's decision to keep Dr Singh out of a committee that is expected to call all the shots in the party in her absence will provide enough ammunition to the PM's detractors. They have long claimed that the prime minister had little or no say in his party's affairs.
This move is being perceived as a confirmation of the alleged deteriorating relationship between the Congress president and the prime minister. Naysayers have long claimed that Gandhi holds the remote control of the government, while the PM merely acts as the rubber stamp.
OUT: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee
Mukherjee's exclusion has left even wisened political watchers shocked. He is widely believed to be the behind-the-scenes man who takes the final call in every major decision of the government AND the party.
Mukherjee is the Congress's man-for-all-portfolios and its chief trouble-shooter. He is a regular visitor to 10 Janpath and was considered to be extremely close to Gandhi.
Mukherjee, famously known as the "best prime minister India never had", always has a finger in every proverbial pie. However, this is one dessert he seems to have been denied a piece of!
OUT: Telecom and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal
Along with two important portfolios to take care of, Sibal has also been busy shooting his mouth off. He has vociferously taken on activist Anna Hazare and his team and even questioned the CAG's audit of the 2G scam.
One of Dr Singh's most trusted lieutenants, Sibal was entrusted with the much-maligned telecom ministry after a string of dubious ministers. But his best efforts in handling two ministries seems to have left Gandhi unimpressed.
Though he has emerged as the most vocal defender of the government's policies in recent times, he has been unceremoniously kept out of the core team.
OUT: Home Minister P Chidambaram
Opinion is divided about his handling of the finance ministry during the first term of the United Progressive Alliance. But Chidambaram was deemed competent enough by Dr Singh and Gandhi to handle the sensitive home ministry after a series of terror strikes in 2008.
After the hopelessly inept Shivraj Patil, Chidambaram has come across as a reassuring, well-prepared minister, more than capable of battling the many issues flung his way.
But the alleged spat between him and Mukherjee probably ruined his chances of getting a slot in the core team. And the nasty rumours about the finance minister's office being bugged at the behest of a senior Cabinet minister just won't go away.
OUT: Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh
The Congress general secretary has an explosive quote for every possible occasion. But his shocking omission from the high-profile committee may finally make even Digvijaya Singh shut up!
Singh is considered to be the political mentor of Rahul Gandhi and the man who holds the key to the Congress's prospects in next year's Uttar Pradesh polls. He has had a free run as the unofficial spokesperson of the party, taking on colleagues like Chidambaram and slandering critics like Hazare.
But Singh, with his saffron conspiracy theories about terror strikes, might just have pushed the envelope a little too much. Gandhi has sent a clear message to him by excluding him from the core team.