Prasada dares to challenge dynasty
Worshippers turn into vandals
Buddha builds bridges
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
Sonia Gandhi is no longer the undisputed leader of the Congress. By forcing an election for the president’s post — the fourth in the party’s 115-year history — contender Jitendra Prasada has reopened the debate about her acceptability in national politics.

Prasada today filed his nomination for the top post amid clashes between the rival groups. In the days leading up to the November 12 poll, the verbal duel is set to become murkier as the rebel camp rakes up the question of Sonia’s foreign origin and accuses her of incompetence.

Tariq Anwar, the former Congress leader who revolted against Sonia on the foreign origin issue, was among the first to congratulate Prasada on his “bold” step today.

Partymen allege that Prasada is acting on behalf of “others” — a reference to Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP. “Sonia Gandhi is the common target of all three,” an AICC functionary said.

In a whistle-stop campaign across the country, Prasada will target Sonia for disowning the party’s past (read the Narasimha Rao regime) and make a case that she represents the faction that walked out of the party in 1993. In this sense, his battle will be against Arjun Singh, Vincent George, Natwar Singh and Madhavrao Scindia. The idea is to alienate those Congressmen who had remained in the party in 1993 from the present leadership.

The dissidents also plan to argue that Sonia is not fit to head the Congress as she “lacks leadership qualities and political acumen” and is “incapable of making independent decisions”.

The fiasco in Haryana and Orissa, the failure to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Bihar and the abortive attempt to form the government at the Centre in 1998 are expected to be highlighted.

The rebel camp believes that a section of the Congress is still uncomfortable about Sonia’s foreign origin, a view supported by the A.K. Antony committee which probed the party’s performance in the last general elections.

Prasada’s supporters are trying to persuade Antony, who is known for his clean image and is a member of the now-defunct ethics committee, to criticise Sonia for the way the party polls are being held.

The dissidents are also counting on “hidden support” from supporters of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, Sharad Pawar and the late Sitaram Kesri.

Prasada’s support base so far has been limited. Only three MPs — Begum Noor, Khan Gufran Zahidi and Sujan Singh Bundela — accompanied him to the Congress headquarters when he went to file the papers. Three former MPs — Pinaki Mishra, Ram Ratan Ram and Vinod Sharma — were also present. As opposed to the 82 sets of papers filed in Sonia’s favour, only five sets were filed for the dissident leader. His supporters are mainly drawn from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar.

But though Prasada may not get many votes, the contest itself will be an embarrassment for Sonia and she is unlikely to come out unscathed.    

New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
For seven years, Jitendra Prasada and the rest of the Congress had queued up outside 10 Janpath with one prayer to Sonia Gandhi: take over the party.

Today, his supporters tore off Sonia’s posters at 24 Akbar Road — the party headquarters — when her loyalists raised the slogan “Jitendra Prasada hai hai”.

It did not take long for the slogan-shouting to explode into a full-scale fistfight. When AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi tried to intervene, he was rewarded with blows and a torn kurta. Eventually, Delhi police succeeded where Jogi failed.

Prasada’s “blasphemy” — dynasty devotees can’t find any other term to describe his challenge to her — came after “peace talks” broke down at 2 am today.

Prasada wanted a categorical assurance from Sonia that she would immediately address his demands, including that to dismantle the coterie and restore inner-party democracy.

The Sonia camp refused to meet the condition, saying that it will amount to admission of guilt where none existed.

The leadership was, however, willing to consider some of the “constructive points” and retain Prasada in the apex decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee.

This is not the first time that an official nominee is being challenged. In 1950, P.D. Tandon had contested against Jawaharlal Nehru’s candidate Acharya Kripalani. Tandon won, but was later forced to step down.

The atmosphere then was not vitiated — a marked contrast from today’s when obscenities were hurled without restraint.

10 Janpath has made it clear that it would not take the initiative for a rapprochement and has told emissaries to halt negotiations.

Prasada said he filed his nomination against Sonia as a “tribute” to the late leaders, Sitaram Kesri and Rajesh Pilot. Kesri died a bitter person, unable to swallow the humiliation of being dumped as party president in 1998.

Just before his death, Kesri was talking about throwing out a “nikammi” (incompetent person). As Congress chief, he had withdrawn support to the then Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda on the ground that he was a “nikamma”.    

Calcutta, Oct. 29: 
After 24 years at the head of government, Jyoti Basu today became caretaker chief minister. He chose to spend the evening playing with his little grandson.

Successor Buddhadev Bhattacharya, in the meantime, appeared to be preparing himself for the cares of power in measured steps.

In a signal that the chief minister-designate will make an effort to carry all sections within his party with him, the Subhas Chakraborty camp said that Bhattacharya had called the controversial transport minister thrice in the past 48 hours seeking his help in governance.

Chakraborty, who till the other day had lukewarm-to-frosty relations with Bhattacharya, pledged to “support and assist him wholeheartedly”.

Bhattacharya was contacted but was unavailable for comment.

The conversations should set at rest speculation over how the new chief minister will tackle individuals like Chakraborty, who has been at the forefront of dissidence in the party over updating the programme. Bhattacharya was never unsympathetic to the cause but has mostly been standoffish towards Chakraborty.

“I am senior to Buddha. If he thinks he needs my help, I am ready to do so. I believe Buddha will be able to run the government deftly and carry the team along,” Chakraborty said.

In the battle to establish his authority, Bhattacharya has the daunting task of winning the confidence of senior ministers. He does not have the unanimous support of the Bengal party headquarters either. Chakraborty’s relations with the powerful Anil Biswas-Biman Bose axis there have also been prickly in the past. Which is why Bhattacharya’s gesture towards Chakraborty is a sign of a reworking of equations in the party before he takes over as chief minister.

Bhattacharya will be sworn in on November 6. Governor Viren J. Shah accepted Basu’s resignation today but asked him to continue as caretaker chief minister.

Basu will address his last rally as chief minister at Shahid Minar tomorrow. The day after, he will chair his last Cabinet meeting.

Today, Basu relaxed at his residence. “I found baba very relaxed today after almost a quarter of a century. This evening he came to my house and played with his grandson,” said son Chandan.    



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