dna exclusive: Poll debacle brings Sonia Gandhi back at helm

Offers unconditional support to AAP; calls for restoration of subsidies

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Stung by the total rout of the Congress party in the recently concluded assembly elections, Sonia Gandhi has returned to take charge of the party, the stewardship of which she had passed on to Rahul Gandhi after he was named party vice-president earlier this year.

Sources in the Congress told dna that the decision to extend unconditional outside support to AAP was taken by Sonia Gandhi in a meeting at her residence on Monday evening. Party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed was not hinting or speaking on his own but conveying her decision, a top source said.

Significantly, Sonia Gandhi asked party leaders to stand firm and united, and not seek the resignations of those perceived to be behind the debacle. Taking the cue, party general secretaries and observers who were at the session held the UPA government responsible for the defeats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. They put the blame on the government’s economic policies, which they said directly hit the party’s core constituency — the weaker sections — which deserted the party and voted for the BJP and the AAP. These leaders demanded the immediate reversal of economic reforms such as those which led to hikes in the prices of cooking gas and diesel.

It was argued that price rise affected every family, and that unbridled inflation did the party in; especially when prices shot up just before the elections were announced even though they fell sharply as the polling days approached. Frequent fluctuations in the prices of essentials led to the public perception that the government was inept, and that affected the party’s chances.

Sources said it was also argued not to fall in the BJP’s trap and name Rahul Gandhi as Congress party’s prime ministerial candidate. Sonia Gandhi had told reporters on Sunday that “the party would announce the name of the prime ministerial candidate at an opportune time”. It was decided at the 3-hour session not to reduce the fight to one between Rahul and Modi.

Two Congress leaders who attended the meet said the session marked the return of Sonia Gandhi at the helm of the party.

“She will play a more active organisational role, and guide the party. She thinks there is no time now for experiments, which Rahul had undertaken,” one of them told dna.

Sonia Gandhi told the assembled leaders to overcome the mood of pessimism in the party. She asked them to return to brass tacks and inspire party workers. She also called for collective leadership. Veterans like her political secretary Ahmed Patel, defence minister AK Antony and health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad were very much part of the session.

Rahul Gandhi spoke at the end of the session. He said perceptions and propaganda impacted the party and that there was a lack of coordination between the party and the government. He wanted to know why the percentage of the Congress vote was not increasing in BJP-ruled states.

He mentioned Madhya Pradesh in particular. Party leaders noted that opposition leader in the MP assembly Ajay Singh, son of late Arjun Singh, had been saying till the morning of the counting day that Congress would win MP with a tally of 126 seats. They wanted to know how he was so wide off the mark.

The two leaders who spoke to dna said nobody offered resignations after Sonia Gandhi asserted  that the elections were fought collectively, and no individual should be blamed. The reasons for the defeats included a clear anti-Congress wave, public anger and the perception of an indecisive government.

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