Debating India


Sonia Gandhi front-runner for primeministership


Thursday 13 May 2004, by JHA*Nilanjana Bhaduri

NEW DELHI: It’s party time for the Congress. The numbers say Sonia Gandhi should be the next Prime Minister of the country, and party leaders are in a huddle at 10 Janpath to prepare for a future in government. Outside, workers are celebrating wildly.

Results and trends till early evening indicated that the Congress alliance and the Left parties would make up the magic number of 272 without the help of any other party, including Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

And though party leaders said in their moment of triumph that any decision would be taken after talks with coalition partners, they all made clear that as the single largest party the Congress would like its leader to be Prime Minister.

"Ours is a coalition led by the Congress and every Congressman would like to see Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi herself had said the people of the country will decide who will be the next PM and the results are obvious," senior leader Ambika Soni said emphatically.

Leaders like Salman Khursheed and Mohsina Kidwai too pointed out that the mandate was clear — that "Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin is not an issue" - and traditionally the leader of the single largest party is the PM in a coalition government. Of course officially, it will only be decided after consultations with the allies.

The party leaders are also clear that Sonia alone deserves the credit for the Congress’ stunning performance. Also, of course, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi who "inspired the younger voter", said Soni.

The Left parties have already made clear that Sonia Gandhi is acceptable as Prime Minister, as have allies like Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. NCP leader Sharad Pawar, who has been the chief architect of the "consensus candidate" idea, may find himself in a minority.

The Congress is in no hurry. Sources said Sonia was likely to wait to be invited by the President rather than go and stake claim. Perhaps the nightmare of 1998 haunts her yet — Sonia had said she had the numbers, but the Samajwadi Party let her down.

The victorious Sonia has been closeted with her closest aides like Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmad Patel and Jairam Ramesh at her residence since Thursday morning and has called a Congress Working Committee meeting at 8 pm to discuss the further course of action. The CWC is the party’s highest decision making body. The Congress president is scheduled to address the press after the meeting.

Party leaders said all of Friday was likely to be spent talking to allies and discussing the contours of the next coalition government.

For now, it’s time to celebrate. Outside 10 Janpath and the party headquarters at 24 Akbar Road, drum beats and fireworks are even now drowning all sound. Exultant Congressmen and women are uninhibitedly dancing and shouting slogans, tons of flowers and garlands are strewn all over. Passersby would be forgiven for believing it’s a royal wedding.

But the stunning results caught even the revellers off guard. For the first hour or two on Thursday, as early trends started coming in, there were hardly any people at the party headquarters and journalists outnumbered Congressmen. It was only as the victory started sinking in that they began to arrive. Since then, there has been no stopping the Congress.

See online : The Times of India


in The Times of India, Thursday, May 13, 2004.

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