North India Times

Sonia hailed for showing Mamata her place

New Delhi: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is the toast of India’s grand old party for calling Mamata Banerjee’s bluff on the presidential election.

After the humiliation of recent assembly elections, Congress leaders are on cloud nine after Gandhi showed her authority when Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee sought to trip the UPA.

In no time after Banerjee announced unilaterally that her party would prop up former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for presidency, the Congress hit back with a vengeance.

Congress leaders are crediting the party’s unusual deftness to Gandhi.

Gandhi, who is said to be ailing, got into a series of quick behind-the-scenes confabulations with party colleagues, allies and others to pick Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to contest the presidential poll.

So much so that Gandhi quickly broke an alliance that appeared to be forming between Banerjee and the Samajwadi Party.

The move has energised the Congress and the central government, which has been trying to shake off charges of policy paralysis.

As is her style, Gandhi, her aides said, led from the front.

“Sonia Gandhi has demonstrated leadership during the moment of crisis. Her focus will now be on delivery of government programmes,” said a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named.

The way Gandhi dealt with the mercurial Banerjee, who was increasingly seen holding the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government hostage, has infused a sense of pride in the party, insiders said.

Only in March, the Congress suffered a humiliating rout in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and lost Goa.

“She has proved that Congress is the largest constituent of the UPA and behaves like one,” said another Congress leader.

Congress leaders feel Gandhi will now follow it up a shake-up to galvanise the government and the party in the run up to the 2014 general election.

A senior party leader said a cabinet reshuffle was in the offing before July 19 if there was no contest in the presidential poll.

This, said the leader, would help the Congress work out a future strategy at a time when it has lost most of the allies who were with it in the last Lok Sabha battle.

Faced with charges of large-scale corruption, the UPA government has been unable to push key economic reforms.

The Trinamool has also aggressively opposed some of the reforms.

While Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh go to polls this year, elections are due next year in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

The issue was flagged in the June 4 meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision making body.

“(Mukherjee’s nomination) has shown determination towards a future strategy,” said a CWC member. In 2011, the 2G and Commonwealth Games scams had hit the UPA government.

Informed sources indicated there could be some forward movement on controversial issues such as foreign equity in multi-brand retail and in civil aviation to ward off the perception of policy paralysis.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already put in place a system to monitor big ticket investment in the infrastructure sector, a move which will help deal with an economic slowdown.

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