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Antony first among equals in Cong quartet

delhi Updated: Aug 06, 2011 02:36 IST
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A party in which all authority derives from the Gandhi family, how close a leader is to the family matters. The reason why, the appointment of a four-member panel to "look after all matters related to the Congress party" by Congress president Sonia Gandhi during her absence has prompted various analyses within the party.

The group is unlikely to take any big decisions during Sonia's absence. The group does not have a convener or a chairman; and the communiqué merely names AK Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Janardan Dwivedi and Ahmed Patel in that order. "Naming a convener or a chair would have meant a clear number two, which has been avoided," a senior leader explained.

Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel — political secretary to the Sonia for a decade now — are expected members of an interim administration. Janardan Dwivedi's inclusion has been explained in tangible terms — that he is general secretary in charge of organisation, meaning he has been managing the nitty-gritty of the party on a daily basis, in close coordination with Sonia. He is also the head of the media department.

Defence minister AK Antony — whose name figures as sort of a first among equals in the list — has for at least a decade been one of the most trusted aides of Sonia and his presence is politically the most significant. Though the 71-year-old’s primacy among Sonia’s advisors has been apparent to party insiders, this is the first time that it being stated. "Soniaji trusts Antony the most. He’s the most crucial sounding board for her on sensitive matters," a top party leaders told HT.

Antony, like Patel, is soft-spoken and avoids spotlight. His personal integrity is legendary; and contrary to some critical views, he can be a tough decision-maker.

There are other traits that make him reliable for the Gandhis. Despite his complete command over a state, he has never bargained for positions; and his counsel to Gandhi combines sharp political acumen and personal detachment. To top it all, he rarely ever opens his mouth in public. "Whenever he opens to say half sentence in the cabinet, it is taken as Soniji’s view," a minister said. Party insiders say the only place where he opens up fully is the Congress core committee. And, Antony is one of the very few among the old guards whom Rahul Gandhi trusts. "Look at Antony," the younger Gandhi retorted when challenged at a function to name a Congress leader who is both efficient and honest.

Dwivedi is a loyalist and a Brahmin face of the party. He is also the Hindi speechwriter for the Congress president. Even after missing out on getting a berth in union cabinet more than once, Dwivedi’s loyalty never flinched.

While Antony has been the moral compass for Sonia, Patel has been her navigator. His operations are finely tuned; his maneuvering skills have kept feuding Congressmen tamed.