The forgotten / not discussed anymore story about how an Italian lady was installed at the helm of the political party that – we Indians are told – was at the forefront of India’s freedom from.. well, the British!
On 14 March 1998, 24 Akbar Road was a mute witness to a constitutional coup that saw the rather unsavoury exit of an ‘elected’ Congress president. Sitaram Kesri was so upset with the day’s events that he kicked his loyal Pomeranian, Ruchi. The ailing Sitaram Kesri, then seventy-nine, had arrived at the CWC meeting at 24 Akbar Road convinced that a party president could not be forced out.
He did not know that before the 11 am meeing, most CWC members had gathered at Pranab’s home to endorse two crucial statements. The first was an ultimatum asking Sitaram Kesri to step down; the second, a resolution replacing him with Sonia Gandhi.
The moment Sitaram Kesri stepped into the hall, he knew something was amiss. Loyalist Tariq Anwar was the only one who stood up to greet him. After Sitaram Kesri sat down, Pranab began reading out a resolution’thanking’ him for his services and invoking Clause J of Article 19 of the Congress constitution.
A horrified Sitaram Kesri listened to its provisions: the CWC could act beyond its constitutional powers in ‘special situations’ as long as it got the decision ratified by the AICC within six months. Party leaders later admitted that the provision did not specifically say that an elected party president could be removed with its help.
‘Arre yeh kya keh rahe ho (Hey, what are you saying)’ was all Sitaram Kesri could say when he found his voice. But there was a smirk on the faces of his colleagues. Sitaram Kesri raved against the ‘unconstitutional’ meeting and loudly protested that he was still the Congress chief. But Prasada, the vice president of the party was already announcing, to thunderous applause, that ‘Madam Sonia Gandhi’ was their new leader.
The axed president stormed out, followed by Anwar. He spent more than an hour in his office, calling up his advisors, but it was already getting difficult to hear them amid the crackers and slogans welcoming Sonia. When Sitaram Kesri stepped out of the room, his name board was missing, already replaced by a computer printout that said: ‘Congress President Sonia Gandhi’.
Sitaram Kesri died a disturbed and disillusioned man. He could not reconcile himself to his unceremonial ouster. There was much that he wanted to say, but he suffered an asthma attack and then slipped into a coma. Sitaram Kesri’s end came on 24 October 2000. He was eighty one. His faithful dog Ruchi died the same evening.
(Excerpt from 24 Akbar Road: A Short History of The People Behind The Fall And Rise of The Congress by Rasheed Kidwai)