New Delhi: With the UPA government looking increasingly helpless in the face of the avalanche of anti-corruption protests led by Anna Hazare, the ruling Congress is sorely missing its president Sonia Gandhi and feels she could have made a difference in handling the crisis.
"Of course, the party is missing Sonia Gandhi," senior Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi told reporters asked whether the party was missing the leadership skills of Gandhi, who is abroad recuperating from an illness, at the peak of the popular anti-corruption movement led by Hazare.
"Whatever has happened has happened. Now, the situation should be handled more carefully," Dwivedi said when asked whether Gandhi could have made a difference amid the widespread perception that the agitation was handled in a ham-handed manner by the government.
Dwivedi is among the group of four party members that include Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patil, political secretary to the Congress chief, and Defence Minister AK Antony mandated by Gandhi to run day-to-day affairs of the party during her absence.
Dwivedi, some party insiders said, was voicing a sense of drift that has set in the party since Gandhi left for the US nearly three weeks ago for medical treatment.
"The party has been missing her leadership. Not only the party, the entire nation is missing her," a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, told reporters.
Sources said the doctors will decide early next month whether she can return to India, but she is not expected to resume active public life for quite some time.
During her absence, the party has been hit by one crisis after another, starting with the tabling of the Comptroller and Auditor General`s report on suspected irregularities in the Commonwealth Games in the Parliament.
The report gave another knock to the image of the government that was already on the defensive over charges of corruption in the allocation of 2G spectrum.
But the lack of leadership became more visible when the government decided to detain Hazare Aug 16 morning, leading to escalating protests and projecting him as an anti-corruption icon.
Hazare was arrested, sent to Tihar Jail and subsequently released on the night of Aug 16. The decision to release Hazare, say party insiders, was decided after Rahul Gandhi intervened and also persuaded the government to refrain from making personalised attacks against Hazare and his associates.
On the 67th birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party leaders admitted that they were badly missing Sonia Gandhi in the thick of this crisis forced by one of the biggest civil society protests in recent years. "All of us are missing her. We pray to god that she recovers soon and guide us once again," Manmohan Singh said at the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award function Aug 20.