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?I have resigned because it is the right thing to do?

CONGRESS PRESIDENT Sonia Gandhi on Thursday punctured the opposition's campaign against her by resigning as National Advisory Council chairperson and member of the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli.
None | By VINOD Sharma and SAROJ Nagi, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 24, 2006 12:33 PM IST

CONGRESS PRESIDENT Sonia Gandhi on Thursday punctured the opposition's campaign against her by resigning as National Advisory Council chairperson and member of the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli.

The move, which at once gives the UPA an upper hand over a belligerent opposition, is likely to enhance Sonia's stature and give her party a potent issue to exploit in the by-election to Rae Bareli which might happen around the assembly polls in the state.

After refusing the prime minister's office in 2004, this is the second time that the Congress president has checkmated the opposition.

While announcing her resignation at a press conference, she once again took the moral high ground. "I've not joined politics and public life for any personal gains," she said. "I've resolved to protect the secular values of the country and society. That is why, upholding the ideals of public life and politics and personal belief, I resign from the Lok Sabha membership and chairmanship of the NAC."

About an hour after the public announcement, Sonia drove down to Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's residence along with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra to hand over her resignation as Lok Sabha member. Her resignation was accepted with immediate effect. The quit notice from the NAC post was delivered to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Opposed in principle to the ordinance route to exempt certain offices from the existing law on positions of profit, Sonia sought the counsel of her senior colleagues. The decision to resign was entirely her own, though it was taken after intra-party consultations spread over Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Among others, she conferred with her political advisers and the ministers in charge of parliamentary affairs, law, HRD, home and defence.

Before going public, Sonia telephoned the PM who drove down to 10 Janpath. Others who joined the Congress president included Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil, Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi. Shortly before she read a prepared statement in Hindi for the press, Rahul Gandhi peeped out for a quick survey.

The only questions to which she responded were about why she decided to quit and whether she would contest elections again. "I've resigned because it's the right thing to do. Aur main Rae Bareli se election zaroor, zaroor ladoongi."

Dressed in a fawn-coloured sari, her hair tied tightly behind, she betrayed no anxiety or the need to answer a question on the government's controversial ordinance move that gave the opposition a handle to whip up its short-lived campaign. In fact, Sonia's resignation has radically altered the UPA's reported plans for a quick-fire change in the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959.

The focus may now be on a bill to amend the existing law, or even on a comprehensive legislation, the initiative for which will have to come from all parties. This is because a list of nearly 100 members of both the Houses which the government is currently studying includes MPs from all shades of the political spectrum.

The NAC post from which Sonia has resigned was a veritable ex-officio position in her capacity as UPA chairperson. For this reason, she sounded out the leading UPA parties, including the RJD and the DMK, and the Left partners.

The best compliment she received was from Railway Minister Lalu Yadav. “She has upheld the honour and dignity of parliamentary tradition,” he said. “If she contests an election again, she’ll return with 50 lakh more votes.”

Sonia continues to be the chairperson the UPA and the Congress Parliamentary Party which had amended its constitution in 1999 to allow even a non-MP to occupy the position.

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