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Antony to chair Sonia’s 4-member group

Posted by on August 7, 2011 0 Comment

The four-member panel to run Congress affairs in the absence of party president Sonia Gandhi is to be chaired by defence minister A.K. Antony, it is understood. As a member of this steering group, the Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi, a party general secretary, will be required to formally defer to Mr Antony in protocol terms.

Mr Gandhi, who is at present with his mother as she recuperates after her successful surgery, is due back in the country after the weekend, according to knowledgeable party sources.

Exact dates may be linked to the process of Mrs Gandhi’s post-operation recovery, but sources believe the Congress and UPA leader is progressing well and Mr Gandhi should be able to return by mid-week.

It has been speculated in political quarters that placing the young Congress general secretary in the group that will run the show until Mrs Gandhi returns is the first concrete step toward crowning him as the de facto party chief — that Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s medical condition has been a godsend to provide Mr Gandhi the opening to climb right to the top sooner than anticipated. But the case for such thinking appears vastly over-rated.

Consider the opposite: what if Mr Gandhi had been kept out? Given the Congress’ history of recent decades, it is more than likely that all the wrong signals would have gone out, and panic may have spread in the party. Such an intriguing development is apt to have lent itself to the false — and destabilising — impression of dissonance between the party chief and her son, or even to the wild speculation that Mrs Gandhi kept her son out possibly at the instance of her daughter, when in reality they are a tightly-knit family and political trio.

Congress sources here indicate that the executive panel could meet as often as needed, may be more than once a day, should this be necessary. It is clear where the locus of power would lie, however. While Mr Antony heads the committee, he is also a minister of the top rank and runs a portfolio which calls for busy hours. In the Congress, there appears an extraordinary reluctance to discuss the nature of Mrs Gandhi’s ailment. Strictly from the political point of view, this wariness makes some sense.

Historians of the day make the educated guess that Partition may have been thwarted by domestic Muslim constituencies, not to say others, if it had been prematurely revealed that Pakistan architect Mohammed Ali Jinnah was suffering from tuberculosis, then a fatal illness which eventually took him not long after Pakistan’s creation. The rough parallel with the present discourse is this: should the return of the unquestioned stalwart be unduly delayed (and rough guesses will be made if the nature of the illness is known), the mere expectation of this can set off tremors in the system that may work to the detriment of the Congress and the UPA. Asian Age

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