Friday, March 14, 2008

Indo-Italian Sonia Gandhi, Longest serving Congress Chief

March 14, 1998, was the day the Congress had, through a “constitutional coup”, ousted Kesri as its 60th president and anointed Indo-Italian Sonia Gandhi, flagging off a new era for the then 113-year-old party. Now, Sonia has the  unique distinction of becoming the longest serving Congress president. Even Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi did not have the privilege of holding the post for 10 years at a stretch.

There is a interesting story about how Sita Ram Kesri was Ousted in a classic "coup" so typical of congress.  The ailing Kesri  had arrived at the Congress Working Committee meeting at 24 Akbar Road convinced that a party president could not be forced out. He did not know that before the 11am meeting, most CWC members had gathered at Pranab Mukherjee’s home to endorse two crucial statements. The first was an ultimatum asking Kesri to step down; the second a resolution replacing him with Sonia. As soon as Kesri stepped into the hall he could sense the mood: loyalist Tariq Anwar was the only one who stood up to greet him.

As Kesri sat cross-legged, Pranab began reading out a resolution “thanking” him for his services and invoking clause J of article 19 of the Congress constitution. A dumbstruck Kesri listened to its provisions: the CWC could act beyond its constitutional powers in “special situations” as long as it got the decision ratified by the All India Congress Committee within six months.

Kesri railed at the “unconstitutional” meeting and screamed that he was still the Congress chief. But Jitendra Prasada, a party vice-president, was already announcing amid thunderous applause that “madam Sonia Gandhi” was the new leader.

The axed president stormed out, followed by Anwar. He spent over an hour in his office calling up h is advisers, but it was already getting difficult to hear them amid the crackers and slogans welcoming Sonia. When Kesri stepped out of the room, his nameplate was missing, replaced by a computer printout that said: “Congress president Sonia Gandhi”.

Sonia has come a long way from her "disastrous" initial days which ranged from claiming to have adequate seats to form Government after 12th Lok Sabha Election to Relinquishing Prime Minister Post after her "Inner Voice" didnot agree with her Head.

Now  she has mastered the art of exercising power from behind the scenes goes without saying. Rules and regulations are interpreted or amended to suit her wishes. This amounts to wielding power without being accountable. She enjoys the role. Indeed, she has added new vocabulary to the lexicon of politics: power without responsibility.

But the paradox in Ms Gandhi's leadership is that while she has been growing stronger, the party is getting weaker. The Congress, which was ruling in 14 States when she took over the party, is now in power in just four States. The overall confusion is telling on the organisation. After the recent debacle in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, the murmurs from Congressmen have become louder. The charges of favouritism where some people hold more than one position while others are ignored, and the lack of nurturing of grassroots leaders by the leadership, are among the most common complaints

Will she now listen to her sons voice who has candidly admitted

“India is a democratic country, but there is practically no internal democracy in any party, be it the Congress, BJP or any other,”

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