IN the post-Rao scenario, Sonia Gandhi is fast emerging as the pivot around whom the Congress hopes to haul itself up. Congress leaders close to Sonia believe that the stage has been set for a revamp of the party. From Sitaram Kesri to Arjun Singh and G.K. Moopanar and Madhavrao Scindia, Congressmen and those who left the party recently because of differences with Nara-simha Rao have been in touch with her. Judging by the range of leaders who have been flocking to 10, Janpath last week, Rajiv Gandhis widow seems to be the patron-in-chief of the Congress unity efforts.
Ever since Rao quit as party president after being chargesheeted in the Lakhubhai Pathak case, party unity has emerged as a theme of much importance to 10, Janpath. This call has been taken up by the new chief, Sitaram Kesri; and it is now widely believed in the Congress that it is imperative to work for the return to the fold of ex-partymen like Scindia, Moopanar, Chidambaram, N.D. Tiwari and Arjun Singh in an effort to rebuild the party along the lines recommended by Rajiv Gandhi.
According to Congress sources, Kesria known Sonia loyalisthas even requested her to help in rebuilding the party. "I am nearing 80 and I need all your active help and support to strengthen the Congress," Kesri is understood to have told Sonia. If Congressmen are to be believed, Rajivs widow has assured Kesri of active participation from her side. However, it is not clear whether she will work from behind the scenes or agree to attend Congress Working Committee (CWC) meetings.
The Sonia camp claims that it is the signals from 10, Janpath that have made party unity a distinct possibility. Scindia, Arjun Singh and Tiwari have responded extremely favourably to the invitation to rejoin the Congress. Even Moopanar has kept in touch with Sonia though he has made no immediate commitment. His stand has been that he and his colleagues in the TMC would think of returning to the fold only after the Congress is revamped and they are sufficiently convinced that it is a "new and improved party" under Kesri.
Moopanars conditions also include an assurance that the alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu be respected. According to a senior Congressman, this is not likely to be a hurdle since in the past too the party has tied up with M. Karunanidhi. However, resistance could come from the TMC cadres, who as Congressmen had received a raw deal from the high command and may not be very keen on again taking orders from Delhi. For the record, Moopanars cryptic response has been that he is "watching all that is happening" in the Congress in Delhi.
On the organisational front, senior party sources say that the Congress high command will soon send out observers to the states to revive the various cells of the party like the financial cell, the Harijan cell and the employment cell. Younger leaders are to be drafted into these cells to ensure that these are not packed with PCC appointees. Its argued that this would help cultivate a younger second line of leadership in the Congress. It may be recalled that the accent on youth was the Congress theme during Rajiv Gandhis tenure. Then there is the attempt to clean up the party image. Though corruption is rampant at various levels, the Sonia camp, which has swelled in numbers ever since Rao quit, places all the blame for the party image being tarnished on the "corrupt coterie" around Rao. Therefore, the unspoken line taken by the anti-Rao majority in the Congress is that no support should be extended to the likes of Satish Sharma and Rao. Its clear that ever since Rao quit as party president, the Gandhi-Nehru family is back in the spotlight at the AICC headquarters. For a party on the downslide and without a charismatic leader, Sonia is seen as something of a potential saviour. But can she bring order in the Congress? Operating from the sidelines, she has managed rather well so far. However, it could be a different ballgame if she enters active politics. For then, the effect would not be limited to the personal ambitions of other party leaders.