Gandhi returns to her party's fold

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The Independent Online
LAST NIGHT Sonia Gandhi resumed control of India's Congress party, after an histrionic interlude during which three senior Congress politicians were expelled and innumerable party members went on hunger strike, wrote letters using their blood, lay down in the street and attempted to set themselves on fire in an effort to get her back.

Today, at a special meeting of the All India Congress Committee called to persuade her to return, she will, it is safe to predict, resume the throne amid vast acclaim.

For Congress, the past 10 days have been an eternity; and if, against the odds, Mrs Gandhi had continued to ignore the party's petitions, it faced the biggest meltdown in its history - followed in short order by a thrashing in the polls due to be held in the autumn.

Already the three big guns, whose rebellion sparked the crisis and who were expelled last Thursday, appear to have taken solid blocs of Congress loyalists with them. Yesterday they announced that they are on the brink of floating a new party.

It was on 16 May that Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar wrote to Mrs Gandhi suggesting that Congress press for a ban on people of foreign origin becoming prime minister. As Mrs Gandhi was born Sonia Maino in Orbassano, northern Italy, this was a blunt attack on her. Mrs Gandhi took it as such, resigning from the leadership the very next day.

Since then, Congress has strained every muscle to get her back.

It is Sonia, heir to the Nehru-Gandhi crown, whatever the circumstances of her birth, who holds this venerable but decadent party together. She is the party's only obvious asset - and for the past 10 days she had gone missing.

Now the crisis is over: though how much support the party will have lost through what looks like an extended game of political charades remains to be seen.