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HVK Archives: Sonia accused of creating 'Christian coterie', sparks Congressmen's ire

Sonia accused of creating 'Christian coterie', sparks Congressmen's ire - Rediff on Net

George Iype, New Delhi ()
July 16, 1998

Title: Sonia accused of creating 'Christian coterie', sparks Congressmen's ire
Author: George Iype, New Delhi
Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: July 16, 1998

Resentment is brewing in the Congress as a section of leaders
charge Sonia Gandhi with cultivating a coterie of Christian
leaders in the party.

Some Congress leaders allege that ever since the Italy-born Sonia
took over the party leadership four months ago, she has packed
her official residence at 10, Janpath and the party headquarters
at 24, Akbar Road with a host of minority party leaders,
especially Christians.

The Congress leaders who are often present at 10, Janpath include
former Union minister Margaret Alva, former Lok Sabha speaker
Purno A Sangma, party general secretary Oscar Fernandes, Congress
Working Committee member A K Antony and the party's chief whip in
the Lok Sabha, Professor P J Kurien.

''We do not know whether it is a deliberate attempt from Sonia to
induct pro-Christian leaders to key posts in the party. But we
feel she is very sympathetic to Christian and Muslim leaders in
the Congress than Hindus,'' an All India Congress Committee
secretary alleged in a conversation to Rediff On The NeT.

Soon after the general election this year, Sonia set up a task
force to revamp the party. The task force was headed by Sangma, a
tribal Christian from Meghalaya who recently warned the Bharatiya
Janata Party against any move to undertake mass conversions into
Hinduism in the North-East.

While Sonia is now axing and appointing state Congress presidents
as per Sangma's recommendations, the Congress president's office
at 24, Akbar Road is headed by Alva, a Christian leader from

Then there are CWC members Fernandes and Antony, said to be
Sonia's blue-eyed boys who are deployed as and when revolts,
resentment and opposition come up in the party on various issues.

''For strategic political advice and action, Sonia depends too
much on persons like Fernandes and Antony. Senior CWC members
like Jitendra Prasada and Pranab Mukherjee are now never invited
to 10, Janpath for political counsel,'' alleged one party
official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Though Maharashtra leader Sharad Pawar is the party's Lok Sabha
leader in Parliament, insiders say chief whip Kurien apprises
Sonia on the happenings in the House and discusses strategy for
the MPs.

Another Christian leader who wields much clout in Sonia's inner
circle is the party's chief spokesperson, Ajit Jogi, a tribal
leader from Madhya Pradesh.

But Kurien says the allegations are ''malicious and incorrect. We
were in the party before Soniaji took over as party president. It
is nonsensical to suggest that we cannot work with Soniaji just
because we are Christians.''

''Soniaji is one person who hates discriminating between various
party leaders on the basis of their caste and religion. She does
not see us as Christians, Hindus or Muslims,'' emphasises the
Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha.

Many party leaders also point out that Sonia's omnipotent private
secretary Vincent George, who operates from 10, Janpath, has
begun meddling in party affairs.

George, who has been with the Gandhi family for 14 years, was
recently given a room at the AICC office to assist Sonia whenever
she attends office.

Congress sources claim George keeps a tab on senior leaders and
party matters at 24, Akbar Road through his emissaries Tomy
Thomas and Tom Vadakkan who are members of the party's newspaper

Newswatch, headed by Sonia confidante and Mahila Congress general
secretary Archana Dalmia, compiles news concerning the Congress
and other political parties appearing in various newspapers
across the country in book form and submits it to the party
president by 1400 hours every day.

Party insiders say many Congress leaders eye Thomas and Vadakkan
with misgiving because they are seen to be the link between 10,
Janpath and 24, Akbar Road, keeping an eye on who is meeting whom
in the party offices.

The elevation of Salman Khursheed, who has lost the last two
general elections, as Uttar Pradesh Congress chief has also not
gone down well with some party leaders.

Many believe Sonia's strategy to bank on Christian and Muslim
leaders in the party may be an attempt to woo the minorities.

''But I feel Sonia's minority politics lacks credibility. It is
high time she did something to target the BJP's upper caste and
backward vote banks across the country,'' a senior Congress
leader told Rediff On The NeT.

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