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Congress's flagship card


By distancing herself from the government, Sonia Gandhi has perfected the two-power-centre theory, writes Pramod Kumar
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: September 8, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Sonia Gandhi | Manmohan Singh | UPA | Rahul Gandhi | 2014 General Elections |

This week when UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi went to inaugurate the National Media Centre in New Delhi, on top of the agenda were questions about the 2014 General Elections, questions that were bound to be addressed to a leader who is normally reticent.

In response to a query about the prospects of UPA forming the next government, Sonia's response was an emphatic cent percent. ‘‘We are 100 percent sure of returning,” she asserted. Asked the reason for this confidence, she said that programmes meant for the people had been implemented and the ones that had not would be done so soon.

Congress sources say her optimism is based on the flagship programmes that the party and the government has introduced in the last decade or so, which is why, breaking away from the scheduled inauguration address, she decided to meet the media and share a tete a tete. Importantly, Sonia appeared to be in a mood to take questions. Asked about the issues thought would dominate the elections, her reply revealed the faith she stores in the government's flagship programmes. According to her, the UPA government's contribution towards Right to Information (RTI), Right to Education and now the Food Security Bill will be the factors which would propel the UPA to a third consecutive term.

Some observers said she did not seem willing to repose her entire faith on the achievments of the Manmohan Singh government alone; instead it was a reiteration that it was actually the National Advisory Committee (NAC) led by her and the programmes introduced by it which would carry the day for the Congress and the UPA. Evidence of it was available when Sonia saw off the prime minister and decided to return to the media centre; there was ample evidence that it was carefully choreographed as she had chosen the occasion to talk to the media where special passes had been issued by the information and broadcasting ministry. Information minister ManishTewari told TSI however that the decision to meet the media was Madam's own and was not part of the itineary.

Clearly, Sonia has persisted with the two-power- centres theory for nearly a decade now. Manmohan Singh has been confined to government decision-making and files, anything to do with the party or the elections are Sonia's baby, so to speak. As for the Congress party organisation, Rahul Gandhi is the boss.

Just how much is the Congress president in command of the party appratus can be gauged from the fact that the entire plot to pass the Food Security Bill in the face of a diffident Parliament was staged and managed by her and her Congress Core Comittee.

For instance, when there was some shortfall in below the poverty line numbers (BPL), the rural development ministry was allotted an additional Rs 359 crores. Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh told TSI that the government did not want a shortfall affecting the performance of the Food Security Bill, hence the largesse. So impressed is Sonia with Ramesh's work that he has been given unbridled powers to oversee targets in any ministry, particularly if they have to do something with NAC's flagship programmes. Recently, Ramesh held a meeting with Jharkhand government officials to ensure that growth targets were being met; on his radar are other ministries as well and even though some of his cabinet colleagues are not exactly enthused, they have no option but to go along.

Congress insiders believe that two by-election victories in Karnataka are proof that Rahul's plans and options are working, particularly as far as organisational unity is concerned.

According to a leader regarded very close to 10 Janpath, the Congress chief's uncanny instincts and years of watching Indian politics from close quarters - apart from the constant advice of a trusted set of advisers - had helped evolve this two-centre theory which believes that UPA 2 could be at the receving end of not the opposition but also allies if the government goes wrong; with that in mind it was ensured that she and Rahul would strictly keep away from government functioning, confining themselves to the NAC and its flagship programmes. Says veteran Congressman Janardan Dwivedi: ‘‘it is Sonia's far sightedness that has kept food security and the Right to Education on top of Congress's political agenda.”

Sonia has herself indicated that her priorities are two fold: implement NAC's flagship programme and two, that the UPA government complete its full tenure. As for the important bills, while the Food Security Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha, other important legislation like the Land Acquisition Act can be introduced in the Parliament. The food security programme has already been introduced in Congress-ruled states. On the agenda now is health security bill, the outlines of which are in the process of being formulated. She is also pressurising the central government to somehow get a handle on inflation so that by 2014, the party has a leg to stand on. Which is why she meets Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram every third day.

‘Things could improve by election time’

Congress spokesman Raj Babbar says Sonia's programmes do a lot of credit to the party. Excerpts:

Does it appear that Sonia Gandhi's flagship programmes are getting more credit that the Manmohan Singh government's own initiatives?
Soniaji is the Congress president and programmes initiated by her will go to the credit of the party, that is natural. The flagship programmes are a tribute to her and her farsightedness. The government has implemented these programmes and it has changed society, helped in evolving new thought. As far as credit is concerned, she deserved it.

These developmental issues could dominate the poll campaign.
Certainly. We will go to the people with programmes that have affected their lives. Of particular interest is RTI and the Food Security Bill.

Could these programmes be dangled before the electorate as the answer to the many scams and inflation?
The weaknesses of the government cannot be hidden but it is not right to say that inflation cannot be brought under control. Things could improve till the elections, after all our efficient ministers are working overtime. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017