NEW DELHI: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is expected to return to India late on Tuesday night a little more than a month after it was announced that she had gone abroad for surgery for an undisclosed illness.
The Congress rank and file are eagerly awaiting her return and although she is likely to need at least another couple of months for a full recovery, the pile in her "in" tray is overflowing. The Anna Hazare-led agitation that unfolded in her absence only added to a sense of disarray in the government and party.
There is still no word on the reason for the surgery Sonia underwent and her treatment remains a well-guarded secret.
Sonia's absence has been felt all the more keenly with the government floundering a series of testing political challenges, with party circles feeling that her presence could have been a deterrent against the apolitical approach Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's troubleshooters relied on to deal with the challenge from Hazare.
The indecision in the government - as its swung between a hard and an accommodating line over Hazare - indicated poor judgment with interlocutors like law minister Salman Khurshid and science and technology minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who finally helped resolve the crisis, being brought in only at a late stage.
Among a host of pending matters that Sonia will have to pay attention to include a swift passage of the anti-corruption Lokpal bill in Parliament backed by as large a consensus as possible. She may also have to prod the government on other anti-graft measures like doing away with discretionary powers of ministries.
Apart from other politically significant bills like the proposed land acquisition and food security legislations, relations with allies will keep her occupied. Congress's ties with two of its largest allies - DMK and Trinamool Congress - need careful handling. DMK is sulking about Kanimozhi, daughter of party chief M Karunanidhi, languishing in jail in connection with the 2G telecom scam.
Relations with Trinamool are delicately poised over West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's opposition to the Teesta treaty with Bangladesh that has impacted the PM's visit to Dhaka. Her rejection of the treaty has scuttled the pact that was to be an important gain from the visit.
While ties with allies have to be handled with care, Sonia needs to step in on other crises too like the Congress-BJP standoff on Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal's appointment of a Lokayukta without consulting chief minister Narendra Modi.
BJP leaders negotiating with the government get the feeling that efforts to rescind the decision are not progressing as there is no authoritative voice to counsel the Congress state unit while there appears to be a divide in the party's central leadership.
The Gujarat controversy is seen as a manifestation of the leadership vacuum as some in the government feel this was not the time to pick a fight with BJP when the main opposition's cooperation is needed to ensure passage of several bills before the monsoon session of Parliament ends this week.
Source: Times Of India