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Has Mallikarjun Kharge’s Nomination Made Sonia Gandhi Stronger or is Rajasthan the Real Test?

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In 2004, when Sonia Gandhi refused to become the PM and chose Dr Manmohan Singh for the top job, many thought her power would be eclipsed. Successive events showed that a divided Congress rallied behind her, some who were unhappy with her choice spared no opportunity to try and weaken Singh and make the point that she was the real power centre.

The setting up of the National Advisory Council (NAC), ministers running to her with complaints instead of the PM only added to the impression that she had the remote control.

As Sonia Gandhi prepares for the second renunciation, once again, similar thoughts are being echoed about Mallikarjun Kharge, who is clearly the chosen one. But it’s a much weakened Sonia Gandhi.

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In 2004, Sonia Gandhi had a grip over the party as she ensured formation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and got her party to power, defeating the mammoth Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This time, the Congress is in power in only two states of Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. Many high-profile leaders have left the party and the departures continue. In the upcoming polls, the chances seem tough with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) surging ahead.

THE GEHLOT JOLT

But nothing seems to have shaken Sonia Gandhi as much as the “rebellion” of Ashok Gehlot. The stage was set, Gehlot ticked all the right boxes and Sonia Gandhi was assured that she could give up charge with Gehlot around the corner. And also hoped that the assurance that the Gandhis gave Sachin Pilot, saying he would be made the CM of Rajasthan, would be fulfilled. But all plans went awry and Gandhi was faced with a revolt and setback she had not seen or braced for in recent times.

It just goes to show the vulnerability and weakness of the Gandhis. A poor report card of losses and open dissent at times have just made the Gandhis look weak. So the coterie decided that it was time to hit back and “Gehlot must be taught a lesson”.

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One senior neta also said: “We will ensure he doesn’t become the president and doesn’t remain the CM.”

AUTHORITY ASSERTED?

While that remains to be sorted , it is clear that the choice of Kharge as the presidential candidate was driven more out of revenge and the need to assert the Gandhis’ authority than getting the political mathematics right.

But has it asserted the authority of Sonia Gandhi and the Gandhis? Yes and no.

Yes, as the coterie could put their heads together to ensure that Gehlot was out and taught a lesson for now.

No, as the Jaipur saga has made them look weak and vulnerable. It may also enthuse some closet rebels to eventually open up.

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But Rajasthan remains the big test. If the Gandhis can get Pilot as the CM, it would mean their power is intact. If not or if they have to opt for a consensus candidate, it will once again show the Gandhis are now a plain shadow of what they once were.

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