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Rahul manoeuvring his latest mantra

By Renu Mittal
June 11, 2009 01:26 IST
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Rahul Gandhi's latest mantra is to firm up the Congress party's tally at 272 in the next few years by bringing in breakaway factions of the party to merge along with other smaller parties, some of whom have already been approached and given mouth-watering offers.

Sources close to Rahul Gandhi say that his mantra is stability, development and reforms and despite anti-reform noises being made by some allies, the Congress is not unduly worried as the numbers this time around are in favour it, with allies not in a threatening position.

In 2004, a pull out by the Left would have left Manmohan Singh shaken and stirred but in 2009, a pull out threat by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the Trinamool would certainly not threaten Dr Singh as the numbers are not frightening.

Congress managers and leaders are now openly listing economic reforms, opening out banking, insurance and pension and amending the atomic energy act to bring in private players in nuclear energy as the priorities of the Singh government.

Managers are busy counting and recounting the numbers in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha as the government prepares to put its priorities on the table and ensure that the envelope is pushed.

On the directions of Rahul Gandhi, an offer of merger was made to Ajit Singh's Indian National Lok Dal, with the Congress refusing to take support from him unless he merged his party. Ajit Singh is still battling the issue within his own party.

It was Rahul, say sources, who has taken up the issue of the homecoming of Mamta Didi in the Congress in the run up to the assembly elections with the clear and stated understanding that she would be the boss and the party's chief ministerial candidate.

In Maharashtra, Rahul is said to be clearly of the view that if the Nationalist Congress Party does not merge with the Congress, then the party should seriously think of going it alone and rebuilding its base, as is being done in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In this context the Congress party has commissioned a survey of all the assembly constituencies of Maharashtra, as a prelude to the coming state elections in October this year to gauge the mood of the voter and to assess whether the party leadership can give in to the demand of the rank and file to dump the NCP and go it alone in the state.

Sources in the Congress state that the first priority of the leadership is to further demoralise the NCP, its leaders and workers and create conditions for a merger of the two parties in the state. Failing this, the Congress leadership would assess the feasibility of going it alone.

It is understood that there is huge disquiet within the NCP over the arrest of party MP Padamsinh Patil and is being seen as a convenient tool in the hands of the Congress leadership to further demoralise the NCP before the assembly elections.

With Sharad Pawar trying to promote daughter Supriya, his nephew Ajit Pawar, seen to be powerful both in terms of money power and support from the MLAs is already running his own politics and is no longer a subservient to Sharad Pawar, as was the case earlier.

Sources say that the Congress leadership is not openly admitting to playing the merger card or to go it alone in Maharashtra on the plea that a considered view on this subject has still not been taken, the anti-Pawar lobby in the Congress sees it as a positive sign that the demand to go it alone is not being rejected by the leadership.

The partnership between the two parties has lasted for 10 years and with elections due this year, the Congress leadership is preparing enough ammunition to put the squeeze on Pawar and get the maximum number of seats in the event that the alliance continues.

In West Bengal, it's a similar story but with a twist. Here the Congress has offered a merger to Mamta Didi with the added bonus that she would be the party's chief ministerial candidate and would call the shots in the state. Rahul Gandhi has had long and detailed discussions with her and these days "pamper the didi campaign" is on with the Congress offering her private planes to fly in, etc.

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Renu Mittal