Anticipating a big internal shake-up in the party senior Congress leader Ambika Soni has written to Sonia Gandhi, wanting to relinquish charge of Uttarakhand and election-bound Himachal Pradesh. Some reports had earlier claimed that she also wants to give up her post as party general secretary and continue only as a Congress worker. However, Soni later denied that.
Though Soni has cited “health reasons” to reduce her work load, sources say that she is not happy with the way Rahul Gandhi is going about putting together his new team. There is talk of Soni and many other party leaders feeling "humiliated" with Gandhi’s handling of the Congress old guard. “It is like applying for anticipatory bail on her part. An honourable way-out. There is definitely a chance that she will be removed from the party post. Instead of facing that indignity at this stage of her political life, she is preempting the move,” reveals a Congress leader.
The quintessential outsider in the party, Soni has always been conscious of the fact that she neither had political lineage nor a caste base, seen as an essential qualification in politics. The English-speaking well-read Soni was seen as somewhat of an elitist misfit. She had been literally handpicked by late Indira Gandhi to join politics. Married to a diplomat, Soni first met the late prime minister in 1969 in Rome. Complimenting her for having both, “beauty and brains”, Indira Gandhi urged her to join politics.
She quickly rose to become President of Indian Youth Congress in 1975 when she worked closely with Sanjay Gandhi, going along with his schemes during Emergency with aggression and conviction. In 1976, she got elected to Parliament from Rajya Sabha for the first time.
After Sonia Gandhi became Congress President in 1998, Soni rose to prominence and importance in the party, taking on the role of President of All India Mahila Congress. As Sonia's political aide she was on an equal footing with the other key Congressman, Ahmed Patel from Gujarat and as trusted and relied upon. She was in charge of Congress President's office for over a decade. She became a close confidante of Sonia Gandhi. “She came to be known as Sasikala to Sonia Gandhi’s Jayalalithaa. This is how close she became to the Congress President,” another Congress leader says.
Soni was elected to Rajya Sabha another three times. She was minister of tourism and culture in UPA-1 and minister of information and broadcasting in UPA-2. She presently represents Punjab in Rajya Sabha and also served as Pradesh Congress Committee President of the state.
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