Congress president Sonia Gandhi is leading from the front in her party’s fight against the BJP’s onslaught over the coal block allocation scam. With the BJP taking to the streets on the issue, the Congress chief has hit the road aggressively by sending a strong message at the CPP meeting to her MPs to take the firm stand that the government has done nothing wrong.
Leader of the House Sushil Kumar Shinde, who has been largely missing in action, was asked to attend the core committee meeting for the first time on Friday.
Sonia’s hands-on-strategy is two pronged: exhortative and populist.
On one hand she goaded Congress MPs to “stand up and fight back’’, and on the other she went to the people (in Barmer, Rajasthan) to underline the dangers of de-valuing Parliamentary debate.
The plan is becoming clearer: the Congress cadres are likely to take the coal story to the people, with Sonia as the general, turning it into a pre-poll battlefield.
Going by her recent bellicose gesticulations in the stormy parliamentary session, along with a charm offensive towards RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury—discussing the relative merits of different kinds of toast served in the Central Hall canteen—Sonia seems to have evolved a strategy of militant opposition to the BJP; handle allies with disarming informality while cracking the whip on embarrassed leaders like Tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay to explain his role in the allotments.
It was “under the strict instructions’ of Sonia that Subodh Kant Sahay was forced to address a press conference on coal blocks allocated to a company reportedly linked to his brother Sudhir Sahay and for which the Minister had written to the PM in 2008.
According to sources, an angry Sonia “refused to hear any of Sahai’s defence” when he attempted to explain that a petition had been filed in the high court against him and the SKS with “a malafide intention” by “a rival group whose owners had links to the RSS” and for whom BJP leader “Arun Jaitley had appeared in the case’’, which had been subsequently thrown out of court.
“If there’s a conflict of interest (involving the Leader of Opposition), then Subodh has to publicly name him,’’ a top Congress leader recounted, “was the clear from the instruction from the high-command”.
A day before Sahai appeared for a public trial, Union Minister Kapil Sibal while defending him had stopped short of naming Jaitley, choosing to drop broad hints instead.
But the Congress chief put her foot down and “she wanted a straight fight’’, a Congress source said.
PRESIDENT MEETS PRESIDENT: Sonia has visited old friend-in-need, President Pranab Mukherjee twice since the Monsoon session began, the last meeting being on Friday night, after the Congress core group meeting.
Insiders say Sonia’s show of aggression in Lok Sabha was thanks to advice from Raisina Hill.
The Prime Minister also met the President once during this period, but the meeting has largely gone unreported, if not unnoticed.
The president was the main troubleshooter for the UPA when he was the Finance minister and his counsel was crucial in dictating the direction of handling any crisis from Anna Hazare to the petrol hike.
Whether her strategy of propping up Mulayam against BJP succeeds or not, the government is not entirely averse to getting a judicial probe into the coal block allocation ordered.
Sonia is expected have a meeting with the UPA constituents and the supporting party to sound out the details.
A top Congress leader said she has clearly spelt out the plan of action.
“Such an announcement is likely to be made in the house as a conclusion to the debate."
As for the demand of “en mass cancellation of the coal block” made by the BJP “it will not be accepted”.
Though Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal ruled out the possibility of a blanket cancellation on the ground that “it would be admission of guilt or wrong doing— when there’s none’’, the inter-ministerial group combing through the allocation of 57 coal blocks (highlighted by the CAG) may de-commission some.
Sonia Gandhi is the sole strategist for the party, have no doubts.
The mercurial Digvijay Singh is only good enough for sharp political rhetoric. (His latest tweet took a dig at Nitin Gadkari: “When the whole country is embroiled in logjam, Gadkari is on an Alaska Cruise! Perfect timing!”) But Diggy is no replacement for the veteran Pranab Mukherjee, who would earlier bring the experience and wisdom of years into handling crises.