Loyalists Promoted, Dissenters Snubbed In New Sonia Gandhi Decisions

Steps have been taken to ensure letter-writers like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor in the Lok Sabha are largely ignored, sources said.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has appointed Jairam Ramesh as the chief whip, according to sources.

New Delhi:

Days after saying she had no ill-will against 23 Congress veterans who wrote her a letter that lurched the party into turmoil, Sonia Gandhi has taken the first steps to keep the so-called dissidents in check. Jairam Ramesh, a senior leader who was not in the dissenting group, has been appointed chief whip of the Congress.

Mrs Gandhi has also formed a committee in the Rajya Sabha with Congress party's treasurer and her political advisor Ahmed Patel and another loyalist KC Venugopal to deal with issues that may come up in the Rajya Sabha.

This new committee will effectively side-line and keep under check the Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and Deputy Leader Anand Sharma, sources said. Both the leaders had played a critical role in writing the letter and were instrumental in ensuring not many Rajya Sabha leaders come out in support of Sonia Gandhi.

To show this is not being done exclusively to side-line the dissenters, Sonia Gandhi has appointed a similar committee in the Lok Sabha, with Gaurav Gogoi as the Deputy Leader and Ravneet Singh Bittu as a whip. Both leaders are believed to be close supporters of the Gandhi family.

Sonia Gandhi has also ensured other letter-writers like Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor in the Lok Sabha are ignored, sources said. Both Mr Tiwari and Mr Tharoor are excellent orators and have lost out because of being signatories, they added.

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With this decision, the days of leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma appear to be numbered as the leaders of the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha but top aides say Sonia Gandhi will wait for the monsoon season to end before ordering a change.

At a stormy meeting on Monday, the group of Congress veterans had found themselves targeted for sending the letter calling for sweeping reforms, fair internal elections and a "full-time, visible leadership" that they sent to Sonia Gandhi, who took over as interim chief after her son Rahul Gandhi's resignation last year.

But after sharp attacks, accusations and sparring, the meeting ended on a conciliatory note with Sonia Gandhi saying all was forgiven.

The party endorsed the Gandhi leadership and pledged to boost Sonia and Rahul Gandhi at a time they have been at the forefront of the opposition's fight against the central government's policies. Sonia Gandhi would continue as interim Congress chief until an All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting to be called in six months, the party said. The Congress also decided to set up a committee to examine the grievances in the letter.