“Let’s begin,” was how Congress president Sonia Gandhi opened the meeting of the party’s Central Election Committee (CEC) at her 10, Janpath home, signalling that she was back in action.
Eight days after she returned following a surgery in the US, Gandhi picked up the reins of the party, chairing a crucial meeting to pick contestants for the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The upbeat party, which had maintained strict silence about the nature of her ailment and the surgery she underwent on August 4, reiterated all was well.
“Soniaji looked, spoke and acted the way she used to. As in the past, she received Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and saw him off,” said party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi. “She is fit and fine but it will take her some time to resume normal work. It will take her a little more time to recover fully.”
The CEC members greeted Gandhi with bouquets. In return, she offered chocolates to all, including the prime minister.
“Nobody could make out she has undergone an operation. Touchwood, she was looking quite good,” said senior party leader Digvijaya Singh.
Though Gandhi had begun to go through party-related paperwork after she returned on September 8, this was her first interaction with the leaders.
On Wednesday night, the screening committee had informed her of 98 names for the second list of candidates for the UP polls and sought her directions for the CEC meeting. On Thursday morning, Gandhi responded that she was ready to chair the meeting “any time”.
At the meeting, the CEC cleared 70 names, 28 are pending.
According to party sources, the CEC also cleared names for 15 seats, where there was more than one contender. The party had declared its first list of 73 candidates in Gandhi’s absence.
The 65-minute meeting was attended by senior party leaders including Pranab Mukerjee, AK Antony, UP Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi had left for the US on August 2. Her last public appearance was on July 25 in Dhaka, where she had gone to receive the highest award in Bangladesh — the Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona (Bangladesh Freedom Honour) — conferred on the late Indira Gandhi.
(With inputs from Lucknow)