Unlike UPA-I, when an enthusiastic Congress chief chased the aam admi and pursued flagship programmes vigorously, her waning interest in the second innings of the ruling coalition has compounded the problems for a scam-tainted and cornered government.
Her two-month-long sabbatical between August and September to recuperate from a surgery proved too costly for the government, as it struggled to contain the anti-corruption agitation led by social activistAnna Hazare. Party insiders believe that Sonia would not have allowed the situation to go out of control. It was her unchallenged authority over the party which forced Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram to declare a truce after a controversy over a finance ministry note on the 2G spectrum scam.
Sonia also failed to effectively intervene on the price rise front. High-level party meetings to discuss major issues became scarce, rendering rank and file confused. As the party faced a string of political crises and failed to come up with a smart strategy to dislodge the BJP governments in half-adozen key states, a planned chintan bhaitak (brainstorming session) was planned early this year but it never materialised.
Congress’ image also took a beating due to motormouth ministers and partymen who did not care to spare a thought before targeting their peers. If leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar were allowed to get away for his vitriolic attack on Ajay Maken, Sonia had to intervene when Digvijaya Singh termed Chidambaram “intellectually arrogant”.
The disconnect between the political managers at 10, Janpath, ace troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee and the PMO caused a complete washout of the entire winter session of Parliament over the spectrum scam.
Sonia had directed party leaders in December to set up committees to monitor implementation of flagship programmes. The panels are being set up now after almost nine months. But the Congress chief has not taken the leaders concerned to task.
AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, sources said, on his part was reluctant to step in to provide a helping hand to his mother. Sonia, party insiders said, too careful not to create a third power centre in the UPA dispensation, wanted to confine Rahul to the Youth Congress and the NSUI.
But in the wake of Sonia’s surgery in the US, many in the party hoped that Rahul will shoulder more party responsibility. He was included in the four-member committee to monitor party affairs in his mother’s absence. But Rahul declined to step in to douse the Anna fire.