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Sonia consulted Rahul, Priyanka before quitting

Party sources confirmed that Gandhi had discussed her decision only with her son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Vadra.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2006 18:30 IST

Sonia Gandhi's move to quit as an MP and chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) was a "personal decision" aimed at defeating her critics that surprised even top leaders of her party.

Party sources confirmed that Gandhi had discussed her decision only with her MP son Rahul Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka Vadra.

Sonia was in the eye of a storm over a proposal to bring in an ordinance to modify laws and redefine the term "office of profit" so that she could continue as a parliamentarian.

"Like always, both children approved of their mother's decision," a source close to the Gandhi family said.

"They are always ahead of others and will do anything to maintain the respectability of the family," the source said.

The decision by Gandhi, who had declined the office of prime minister after leading the Congress to victory in the 2004 general election, came as a shock to party leaders and workers.

After taking the decision, Gandhi conveyed it to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who in turn held a meeting with senior ministers Shivraj Patil and Pranab Mukherjee and party leader Ahamed Patel.

According to these sources, Gandhi's action was aimed not only at silencing opposition leaders but "some of her own party members too".

They said Gandhi had been deeply hurt by criticism from the opposition over the government's decision to bring in an ordinance to avoid the disqualification of MPs who held offices of profit.

The media too had criticised the government's proposed move.

Sources close to Gandhi claimed the Congress chief was not aware of the government's efforts to bring in an ordinance, which were described as a move to "save" her.

Announcing her decision to step down as an MP and NAC chairperson, Gandhi declared that she was doing the "right thing".

"I have stated it earlier also that I am in politics and public life not for my selfish ends," she said.

"I have taken a pledge to serve the people of the country and to protect the secular ideals.

"So, in keeping with my public life and political principles and according to my own belief, I resign as member of the Lok Sabha and chairperson of the National Advisory Council," Gandhi read from a prepared statement.

"I have done this because it is the right thing to do," Gandhi said, as Rahul stood by her.

Some Congress leaders discreetly blamed a senior minister, who they accused of making attempts to defame Gandhi and her family, for recent goof-ups.

"There has been an attempt from some party leaders who still nourish dreams of becoming prime minister," a party leader said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition along with the Telegu Desam Party had demanded Gandhi's resignation as MP for holding the post of NAC chief after the president approved the disqualification of Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan for holding an office of profit.

While the decision was projected as one based on principles, Congress leaders admitted it was also a "strategic move".

"It will definitely help us to get an edge in the upcoming assembly elections. It will invoke memories of her renunciation (of the prime ministerial post in May 2004)," said a party leader and member of the influential Congress Working Committee.

First Published: Mar 23, 2006 18:30 IST