INDIA: Sonia 'joins' Press Club, stirs row

Press Club of India officers use meeting with Congress party chief to counter dissident members

The Times of India
Monday, August 31, 2009

By Bhaskar Roy

New Delhi --- When she received a Press Club of India delegation, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi could hardly have imagined that her innocuous gesture of "accepting" a purely honorary club membership could become embroiled in a factional squabble at the journalists' watering hole.

The Congress chief might have thought that her small piece of "PR" with the Capital's scribes would be just that. But the group of office-bearers who met Sonia at her residence recently are waving their visit as a signal achievement that they have used to confront a section that has accused the official faction of various irregularities.

The club office-bearers who called on Sonia could well have had in mind the hunt for alternate premises as its present quarters are awaiting the demolition squad with Metro construction closing in. Another urgent need is to enlist support for the club's 50th anniversary celebrations.

The political grapevine has it that Sonia, normally circumspect about any such requests, somewhat reluctantly accepted the membership offered by the delegation. The ostensible argument was that it would earn Congress some goodwill with the Capital's media.

Sonia's visitors had themselves photographed with her and after going back, they put up the pictures on display like trophies in the club. They saw their visit as nothing short of a major coup even as the rival faction got ready to snipe at them.

The club dissidents convened an extraordinary general body meeting a week ago to "sack" the office-bearers alleging financial irregularities but the ruling faction proudly spoke of their expedition to 10, Janpath as a great achievement.

The sordid Press Club saga dampened the mood in Congress circles where the party chief's meeting with the club office-bearers was billed as an 'out-of-the-box' move to reach out to the fourth estate.

This triggered an immediate blame-game with one set of functionaries holding another responsible for the fiasco. However, party spokesmen declined comment on the issue.