Sunday 6 January 2013

Congress’ Inner Core group plans UPA III (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 5th Jan 2013
hile television cameras get focused on "Core Group" meetings of the Congress, insiders claim that the actual heart of strategising within the ruling party comprises an "inner core group". According to these sources, this consists of Ahmed Patel, Jitendra Singh, Milind Deora, Manish Tewari and R.P.N. Singh and Rahul Gandhi aide Kanishka Singh. In the Union Cabinet, the two ministers most involved in plans for a UPA III are Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.
The task given to the inner core is to ensure that the Congress returns after the next general elections to head a coalition, by once again emerging as the single largest party. Or, get enough seats to cobble together like-minded groups to repeat the 1990-91 Chandrashekhar experiment of a minority government kept going by outside Congress support.
The "Inner Core Group" of the Congress sees the BJP as its primary foe, and in particular Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The game plan is to encourage fissures within the BJP at both the national as well as the state level, a strategy that is expected to deliver Karnataka to the Congress. "Discussions are ongoing with Yeddyurappa to form a coalition, in case the Congress fails to get a majority on its own," a Karnataka leader claimed. The expectation is that a combination of corruption scandals and infights will dent the BJP's image sufficiently to enable Congress to move ahead of it in the number of seats won.
"The effort to place legal responsibility for the 2002 riots at Modi's door has failed, so now the strategy is to investigate whether corruption allegations can be laid" against the Gujarat CM. The Inner Core has been enthused by the Supreme Court upholding Governor Kamla Beniwal's choice as state Lokayukta, despite Modi's opposition.
Through the Council of Ministers, the party's strategists have sought to ensure that "reliable" officers get posted to sensitive agencies. Former director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB) Nehchal Sandhu, has been inducted into the National Security Council Secretariat to take over as Deputy NSA after the present incumbent, Lata Reddy, retires in two months' time. "Sandhu has shown his reliability during the General V.K. Singh controversy," an inside source said, adding that "he has the backing of not only Chidambaram but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well". This source claimed that the PM offered the post of Advisor in the PMO to Sandhu soon after the latter's retirement, "but we (in the core group) felt that it would be better to place him at the heart of operations, rather than just be an advisor". There are also reports that he may be shifted to Kashmir as Governor, being a favourite of Farooq Abdullah.
Among other crucial appointments, the Inner Core has expressed "quiet satisfaction" at the appointment of Asif Ibrahim as the new DIB. Interestingly, among those "regularly consulted for their wisdom" is Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who will certainly become President within five years, if Congress comes back to power.
The new IB chief is expected to bring to his new post his formidable talents in political analysis and national security management, and is considered a likely NSA in case the UPA comes back, replacing the "apolitical" Shivshankar Menon.
The team is also working on a set of "policy options" designed to boost the UPA's electoral fortunes, among which is the expected announcement of Telangana state.

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