Trinamul parrots winning slogan
Sangh frowns with a smile
TV blackout for Mamata
Second on list, first to be back in business
Rebel in robe rubs shoulders with Left
Partner miffed at portfolio trade-off
BJP not happy to play second fiddle
Freshers’ welcome before govt shuffle
Politics stars in channel wars
Coterie returns with clipped wings

Calcutta, May 18: 
If you can’t beat ’em, follow ’em even if you don’t join ’em.

After skipping the swearing-in of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his comrades, Mamata Banerjee and her band of MPs today toed the Left line in their attempt to get the party back on track.

Following in Bhattacharjee’s footsteps, Krishna Bose, the Trinamul MP from Jadavpur, suggested that the party’s new slogan should be: “The alternative to Trinamul is a better Trinamul.”

With Bengal refusing to opt for change now, Mamata agreed to the change in slogan, which is markedly different from her bodley deen, paltey deen cries.

“Actually, I took a leaf out Buddhababu’s book. During his campaign, he used to say that the only alternative to the Left is a new, improved Left,” Bose explained after a meeting at her house this evening.

The MPs’ meeting was the first since the electoral drubbing. The leaders sought to set at rest speculation on a split in the party by reaffirming their allegiance to Mamata.

Apart from Bose and Mamata, the other MPs present were Ranjit Panja, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Bikram Sarkar, Akbar Ali Khondakar and Ananda Mohan Biswas. Nitish Sengupta, who is in Delhi, could not make it because his wife is ill.

Chief dissident Ajit Panja was informed about the meeting through his brother Ranjit. But he did not attend.

Mamata, who arrived at 7.15 pm, appeared satisfied and came out of the meeting smiling. “All your speculation (on a split) have come to a big zero,” she told reporters. “We took the decision to firmly stand behind Mamata because it is the need of the hour. Otherwise, our workers, who are facing attacks by the CPM cadre in rural Bengal everyday, will be confused,” Bose said.

Mamata said she would convene an official meeting of the party leadership shortly to discuss other issues like strengthening the organisation. Bose had said earlier this week that organisational failure was one reason for the party’s poor performance.

Mamata asked the Lok Sabha members to visit their constituencies and hold discussions with the administration to protect Trinamul workers who are being “attacked” by CPM activists. Sarkar, the MP from Panskura in Midnapore, briefed the meeting about the situation in the violence-ravaged district.

“Ever since the poll results, our workers are being beaten up in the districts. We are not being able to do much about it. A group of MLAs visited Khejuri in Midnapore yesterday. After the MLAs left Khejuri, the CPM cadre attacked our supporters in the villages,” Bose said.

Asked whether Ajit Panja and his charges against the party had figured in the talks, she said: “We all feel it (Panja’s accusations) was unfortunate. It was not proper on his part to openly say such things on the eve of such a crucial election. Let him come to the party forum for discussions.”


Calcutta, May 18: 
The RSS is not happy at the success of its Sangh parivar cousin, the BJP, in taking away anti-Left votes from the principal Opposition throughout the state and thus helping the Left Front return to Writers’ Buildings.

The BJP, with a 5 per cent-plus vote-share, polled more votes than the margin of defeat of Opposition candidates in about 45 constituencies. That its overt and covert appeals to the electorate — the organisation distributed pamphlets calling for a consolidation of anti-Left votes just before the polls — failed, has not particularly enthused the RSS.

At a closed-door meeting of the RSS West Bengal top brass a day after the results were declared, speakers railed against a section of the state BJP leadership which was perceived to be more anti-Mamata than necessary.

But the results of the Assembly polls have also given the RSS some cause to cheer; it is happy at the consolidation of Hindu votes in favour of the Trinamul-Congress combine at some places and the consolidation of minority votes against the “betrayer” Trinamul at most other places.

The RSS appears particularly enthused by the result in Rampurhat constituency in Birbhum, where, in the last election, the BJP had got about 42,000 votes and finished second.

This time in Rampurhat, Trinamul-Congress combine nominee Ashis Banerjee got about 51 per cent of the valid votes and pushed the Left Front candidate, Md Hannan of the Forward Bloc, to the second spot. The RSS sees in the result a model for the future; that the BJP nominee, Subhas Gossain, got only 1.44 per cent of the votes has failed to upset the organisation.

The RSS is not unduly worried about the fact that the “Rampurhat model” failed, except in a few isolated constituencies, elsewhere. If the similar consolidation of Hindu votes, particularly in border districts like Nadia, has made the organisation reasonably happy, it is overjoyed at the apparent consolidation of minority votes against the combine.

Of the 40-odd MLAs from the minority community, only one belongs to Trinamul: Abdul Karim Choudhury, MLA from Islampur. An overwhelming majority is from the Left — it accounts for more than 65 per cent of the minority-community MLAs in the Assembly — and the rest are either Congress candidates or Congress rebels who have won despite going against official nominees.

This, the RSS top brass here say, proves that the minority community is yet to trust Trinamul. Its “betrayal” of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trust, as the RSS would like to see Trinamul’s dumping the BJP and allying with the Congress, has not been too successful in helping the party bag minority votes.

This, for the RSS, is a silver lining. It retains a soft spot for Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee — she is still the strongest anti-Left force despite being “emotional” and “prone to making serious political mistakes”, the RSS feels — and believes her failure to net minority votes may bring her back to the NDA fold and the BJP.


Calcutta, May 18: 
The Trinamul Congress today observed a “Protest Day” to mark the “victory of state-sponsored terrorism” during the Bengal polls, even as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was sworn in as chief minister.

At 2 pm, Trinamul leaders and workers took out a procession, with black flags and placards, from Subodh Mullick Square to the Gandhi statue at Mayo Road, where they burnt effigies of Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill and chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen.

The placards carried slogans such as “Paschim Bangey nihoto ganatantra, ganatantra bachao”. One of the placards showed a map of West Bengal with a knife driven through the middle.

Trinamul MLAs also boycotted today’s swearing-in ceremony in protest against the Left Front’s “terror tactics” during the polls.

The Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the Congress — a Trinamul ally in the Bengal polls — also observed the day as “Black Day”.

The Trinamul programme, sponsored by its trade union wing, was attended by party leaders and newly-elected MLAs, including Pankaj Banerjee, Sougata Roy, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Sadhan Pande and Paras Dutta.

At Mayo Road, Trinamul leaders addressed the modest gathering from atop a truck. Thousands of party workers were being hounded out of their houses in rural Bengal by CPM cadre at a time when Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his ministers are being sworn in, they alleged. “Our local leader has been murdered in Rajarhat and our MLA has been shot at near Gaighata,” said Pankaj Banerjee.

Trinamul leaders sharply criticised the role of the Election Commission and its chief. “We have to carry on our crusade against the communists. We have to begin our struggle against the CPM in Bengal all over again,” said the leaders.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee, however, did not attend the programme and remained at her Kalighat residence instead. In the morning, when the swearing-in ceremony was being telecast live, the television in Mamata’s and her brothers’ rooms were switched off.

Trinamul insiders said that Mamata pored over a stack of newspapers in the morning, marking incidents of violence in which her party’s supporters had been attacked.


Calcutta, May 18: 
His name came in second after the chief minister’s during the oath-taking ceremony; he was the minister who got the longest handshake from Governor Viren J. Shah; he was the most sought-after minister in the new Left Front team that took the oath of office at the Raj Bhavan today. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee might have become chief minister today but the spotlight was never far from Nirupam Sen.

His first day as minister had all the bad omens for ministers like Asim Dasgupta and Suryakanta Mishra who came in much higher in the pecking order in the last Left Front Cabinet; it was apparent that his was the only party-sanctioned voice that was allowed to echo chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s criticism of certain aspects of the functioning of the last Left Front ministry.

But it was clear that the party would be happy to see Sen staying under Bhattacharjee’s shadow for the time being.

There would be a strict implementation of the Pay Commission’s orders regarding work-culture, Sen told reporters minutes after his chief minister had “hoped” that government employees would be more responsible to the public than in the past.

He was dissatisfied with the state government’s achievements in the field of education, he said, an hour before his chief minister admitted that the Left Front government’s work in education, among several other fields, left a lot to be desired.

All the while, Sen sat in the room belonging to the finance minister in the outgoing ministry and the man who was considered — along with Bhattacharjee and land and land reforms minister Suryakanta Mishra — to make up the top-three in the Jyoti Basu Cabinet.

Sen probably will not usurp Dasgupta’s and Mishra’s departments, speculation is gaining ground that the CPM ideologue could get the vital industry portfolio, which is one of Bhattacharjee’s top priorities with education and health.

But it was clear that he had pushed them back in the pecking order in the Cabinet; Dasgupta’s name came in fourth, even after that of Md Amin, and Mishra’s was the seventh name on the list that was read out before the swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan.

A backroom boy who can take much of the credit for the CPM’s continuing hold over “red citadel” Burdwan, Sen has clearly come up to the front in the current Left Front ministry’s scheme of things.

This is something that is not new for Sen. The last time he fought an election was in 1987. He wasn’t particularly keen, but the party needed him. Benoy Chowdhury had fought the previous election — in 1982 — and his victory margin was a meagre 3,512 votes. In Burdwan South, this was unthinkable.

Chowdhury said no the next election. So, Sen was roped in to do some firefighting. He fought, and won — by 11,958 votes. The crisis passed, the red hue was back in the traditional Red bastion.


Calcutta, May 18: 
Ajit Panja came with time to spare. In his lawyer’s robe, smiling, talking to Biman Bose and Anil Biswas at the Raj Bhavan lawns, he was just what Mamata would have hated to see: a rebel whose prophesies had come true.

More than to attend the ceremony, Panja had come here to be noticed. Mamata had asked all partymen to keep away from Raj Bhavan on Friday, but there was Panja. “It was yet another whimsical decision,” he said, referring to Mamata’s boycott call.

But Panja was the lone Trinamul rebel in a crowd of 2,000 packed inside the chandeliered pandal at the Raj Bhawan lawns.

At 11.02 sharp, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee climbed up the dais to be sworn in as the seventh chief minister of Bengal.

Governor Viren J. Shah, in a brick-red kurta and a ghee-coloured dhoti, stood for an hour-and-a-half administering the oath of office and secrecy to Bhattacharjee and 47 others in the council of ministers.

Before the ceremony began, Bhattacharjee greeted Jyoti Basu with a bouquet of red roses. The four-time chief minister accepted the flowers and sat beside CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

CPM politburo members sat together, Sitaram Yechuri and Prakash Karat among them. Poet Javed Akhtar was among the invitees seated with the Marxists.

Monotony set in as minister after minister climbed up the dais. But the audience burst into life when chief secretary Manish Gupta announced the name of Nandarani Dal.

Bhattacharjee’s wife Mira stood up to applaud. So did daughter Suchetana, clad in a red “Che Guevera” sweatshirt. This was no ordinary minister — she had won from Keshpur, with a record margin.

Keshpur’s neighbour, Garbeta, too, had its fair share of claps as Susanta Ghosh rose to take oath.

Nirupam Sen, Mohammed Salim, and Pratyush Mukherjee sounded clear-voiced as they repeated the oath. As Salim would say later: “I have my aspirations to deliver as has everyone else.”

“We had faith in Jyoti Basu and we have hope in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee,” said Sanjiv Goenka of the RPG Group. Goenka was seated with industrialists from the state, including Harsh Neotia, Sisir Bajoria and S.K. Birla.

Actor Soumitra Chatterjee in a maroon shirt sat not far from writers Nabanita Deb Sen and Buddhadeb Guha.

Governor Shah took Bhattacharjee, Basu and the CPM leaders to tea inside Raj Bhavan as the guests, MLAs and ministers headed for the refreshment tent for a welcome soft drink and snacks.

Bhattacharjee later went around the pandal either greeting people or acknowledging their congratulations. “I want to hear you sing very soon,” the chief minister told sheriff and Rabindrasangeet exponent Suchitra Mitra.


Calcutta, May 18: 
Trouble erupted in the Left camp barely hours after the swearing-in ceremony with the Forward Bloc expressing unhappiness over handing over the cooperation department to the CPM in return for the forest and tourism portfolio.

Several party functionaries joined Forward Bloc chairman Bhakti Bhusan Mondal in criticising state unit general secretary Ashok Ghosh’s decision to give up the “key” portfolio.

“Cooperation is the only department which has helped us develop mass contact over the years,” said Nihar Roychowdhury, Forward Bloc Calcutta district unit secretary.

Kamal Guha, Forward Bloc MLA from Dinhata, who broke away from the party in 1992 and later returned in 1999, has been allotted the forest and tourism departments.

Sources said Ghosh sought an interview with CPM politburo member Biman Bose to discuss the “contentious” issue.

“I am upset at the manner in which the party has accepted a less important portfolio in return for the key cooperation department. This is nothing but abject surrender to the CPM which definitely puts its pressure on Ghosh and other party managers,” Mondal alleged at the party office. He said he was not consulted before the decision was taken.

As minister for cooperation for several years, Mondal claimed that this was the only department through which the party used to wield its clout on a large number of people.

“There is not much scope for us... with the party MLA heading the insignificant forest and tourism department,” he said.

After giving up the post, Forward Bloc will lose its control over apex cooperative bodies like Benfed (West Bengal State Co-operative Marketing Federation) and Confed (West Bengal State Cooperatives of Consumers’ Federation) in which party managers are at the helm of affairs.

However, Ghosh said there was a motive behind surrendering the post and accepting the forest and tourism departments.

“It is true that we used to run the department for years. But, this time, we have accepted the forest and tourism departments with a view to serving the neglected people of north Bengal better,” he said.

He felt the party could keep its vote bank intact in north Bengal by improving tourism and forest areas in five north Bengal districts. Most of the party MLAs hail from there.

Left Front sources, however, said the CPM wants to wrest the department from the Forward Bloc as it considers it a “lucrative” portfolio.

However, Left Front chairman and CPM leader Sailen Dasgupta denied that the party had put pressure on the Forward Bloc leadership to give up the department.

“We have given two separate departments to the Forward Bloc in lieu of cooperation and as such the party has no reason to be unhappy,” he said.


New Delhi, May 18: 
As the two-day soul-searching session of the BJP at Jhinjhauli restored the party’s umbilical links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, it also drew up a seven-point programme of action to rejuvenate the organisation.

The opinion expressed in the chintan baithak (introspective session), where RSS political affairs cell chief Madan Das Devi gave a pep talk, was that the party was forced to play second fiddle to the government. The participants felt this anomaly ought to be “set right”.

A statement issued by BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, a former RSS pracharak, said: “Much more co-ordination between organisational wing and legislature/ parliamentary wing of the party is to be effected so that the two wings work in tandem.”

The participants also felt that “groupism and indiscipline should not be allowed to mar the identity of the party and effective and timely steps are to be taken to deal with these”.

It was decided that special attention be given to educate the BJP cadre not only on current politics but also on the commitments of the party as enunciated in the Chennai declaration.

The declaration, adopted in December 1999, formally ratified the NDA agenda and declared that the BJP had no agenda save the national agenda of governance. BJP sources said the need to remind the cadre of the Chennai declaration arose as even MPs have opposed the government’s economic and Kashmir policies in internal meetings. Some have raised doubts about the BJP’s commitment to its Hindutva agenda and sourced the party’s electoral failures to its “deviation” from the hard-line.

Devi’s presence was meant not so much to reinforce the Hindutva viewpoint as to reassure pracharaks that the RSS-BJP equation was “in place” and the Sangh was not ditching its progeny, despite reservations on some of the Centre’s policies.

The participants also decided to organise more programmes involving grassroots workers and ask Central, state and district leaders to be in touch with workers, who felt “neglected” once the BJP came to power.

Taking stock of the Assembly elections, the session noted that the DMK “did not succeed to the extent it was expected”. In West Bengal, the conclusion was that the electoral outcome was “principally determined by the electoral strategy adopted by the Trinamul Congress leader”.

All eyes are, however, now on Uttar Pradesh.

In his address, home minister L.K. Advani said: “As a party, we will have to work hard to expand our base, further improve our image and move forward along with our allies.”


New Delhi, May 18: 
Whether Atal Bihari Vajpayee can expand his Cabinet before he is wheeled in for his second knee surgery depends on how soon he manages to rope in the 19 new MPs from various breakaway groups and blocks, most of whom are keenly eyeing the exercise.

The Prime Minister is expected to take off for his summer holiday in Manali, his favourite resort, on May 23.

After chilling out in the hills for a week, he will return to the Capital and complete his “pending” business before leaving for Mumbai on June 5 to have his right knee operated.

Government sources said the interim agenda also includes expanding his Cabinet. But, if the political realignments — partly triggered off by the Assembly polls — do not fall in place, they said Vajpayee would defer the exercise till June-end, before the monsoon session of Parliament begins.

According to the BJP’s assessment, the 19 prospective inductees into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) include five MPs each from the Trinamul Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), three from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (Democratic), two from Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal and four Independents led by Bihar strongman Pappu Yadav. The PMK MPs had left the coalition to tie up with Jayalalitha before the Tamil Nadu polls and now want to come back.

The sources made it clear that all of them would not be “rewarded” with ministerships. In fact, Vajpayee is believed to have said that rather than “isolate” Mamata Banerjee and allow her to “languish” in Bengal, she should be “persuaded” to rejoin the NDA and his Cabinet.

“Even Nitish Kumar (the Samata Party leader who took over as railway minister after Mamata left) has shed his earlier reservations about her and says he does not mind having her back, provided, of course, that she does not insist on getting the railway ministry back,” Samata sources claimed.

But the BJP’s reading is that Mamata, faced as she is with a “credibility” crisis, is unlikely to switch her allegiance back to the Central coalition yet.

In which case, the sources said, the government would “more than welcome” her dissident MPs.

The three RJD (Democratic) MPs, BJP sources said, had no choice but to stick with the NDA after burning their boats with Laloo Prasad Yadav.

They said the ministerial offer would go to Nagmani, a Lok Sabha MP, and not Ranjan Yadav, the star dissident who belongs to the Upper House. “We need the numbers in the Lower House,” the sources said.

The pact with Ajit Singh, sources said, was expected to crystallise in a week. Although the Indian National Lok Dal leader and Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala initially opposed the kisan leader’s entry, BJP leaders have reportedly worked on Chautala to not make an issue of it. The Lok Dal leader has agreed on the condition that Singh is not given the agriculture ministry.

Government sources said this round of expansion would only absorb the newcomers and not give more berths to existing allies like the Samata and the Biju Janata Dal.

This implies that the vacancy, created by the departure of Samata leader George Fernandes, may not be filled now and foreign minister Jaswant Singh would continue to hold the defence portfolio as well.

Vajpayee message

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today congratulated Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Tarun Gogoi on becoming chief ministers of West Bengal and Assam, reports PTI. Vajpayee has sent letters of felicitation to both of them, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said.


Mumbai, May 18: 
First there was Kaun Banega Crorepati on STAR followed by Sawal Dus Crore Ka on Zee. Now there is Pradhan Mantri on Zee followed by Ji Mantriji on STAR. After a passionate affair with game shows, the channels seem to be inching back towards an old love — politics.

Though neither serial has anything to do with the other, according to both the channels, in a Tehelka-charged atmosphere, STAR has opted for a political sit-com — Ji Mantriji is the Indian version of the British comedy Yes, Minister — while it’s pop patriotism on Pradhan Mantri, the serial that has Zee’s Subhas Chandra beaming like a proud father. There is even an episode in Pradhan Mantri very reminiscent of the Tehelka expose.

But even as Chandra claims Pradhan Mantri’s dose of “political idealism” is just what the doctor ordered for the nation, the serial — directed by Ketan Mehta of Mirch Masala fame, it credits journalist and ex-politician M.J. Akbar with “concept and story development” — also seems to be giving the channel a promise of better health.

Zee, with its dipping shares and viewership — not to mention the spectacular failure of its much-touted game show Sawal Dus Crore Ka — has not been keeping well lately. But though lagging behind the programmes that rule the roost — family soaps like Amanat — Pradhan Mantri is pushing up the TRP charts.

At a glitzy event to promote the serial this Wednesday — Zee is hardselling the serial; the website, the first Zee website on any programme, was launched the same day — the channel said that Pradhan Mantri has touched 6 on TRP ratings twice since its start on April 6 and has a decent average of 4.9 (figures according to Intam survey). It has got a Friday primetime slot and a repeat telecast on Sunday.

Pradhan Mantri is about a fiercely honest PM who will not even have his wife accept the “bribe” of a perfume, who has a “vision” for India and who will not compromise on any account. Ketan Mehta was working on a sci-fi project, when he got a call from Zee for Pradhan Mantri. It was not much of a difference, for “a young, honest, intelligent and diligent PM” is as improbable as an outer space entity.

His job was to make the idea believable, says Mehta, who labels Pradhan Mantri a “social sci-fi”. “The idea was to stop making ‘idealism’ seem boring and to combat cynicism,” adds Akbar.

It seems to work. At the Zee party, where scenes from the serial were screened, when Kay Kay, the actor who plays the PM, replying to a “nuclear threat” from our neighbour, roared: “Pakistan ka naam o nishan mit jayega (Pakistan will be razed to the ground),” the audience broke into a thunderous applause. They had also gone haywire when Kay Kay had entered the party dressed as Prime Minister, surrounded by Black Cats, and had addressed a news conference in the same official capacity.

STAR is also upbeat with Ji Mantriji, where Farooq Shaikh plays the dippy Prime Minister completely manipulated by his secretary Jayant Kripalni and the audience gets quite a few laughs at the PM’s expense.

This serial, which was first aired on April 26, is trailing behind the chart- topping daughter-in-law-mom-in-law sagas like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, but for the week April 30 — May 6, it has notched up a TRP rating of 3.8 (Intam figure) and has been slotted 20th among the top 50 programmes.


New Delhi, May 18: 
The return of Vincent George has again changed power equations within the Congress.

Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, Makhan Lal Fotedar and George now make up the small decision-making apparatus in the party. But unlike as in the past, Sonia Gandhi does not want to hand over all powers to the quartet.

To project herself as “even-handed” and “fair” to all factions and pressure groups, the Congress president plans to give “due importance” to leaders like Pranab Mukherjee, Madhavrao Scindia, Ambika Soni, Manmohan Singh and Ahmad Patel.

With the Assembly polls over, sources close to the Congress chief said the party is likely to see the emergence of an all-powerful “new Sonia” who would lead from the front.

“There are no threats to her leadership,” a 10 Janpath insider said, commenting on the equations in the party. “Having won the elections, her position has consolidated. She wants to bring in leaders like G.K. Moopanar and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to provide fresh impetus to the organisation. Arjun, Fotedar and Natwar are leaders in their own right and she would not blindly depend upon them.”

Manmohan is set to get a Rajya Sabha nomination from Assam where the party continued to be a divided house even as Tarun Gogoi took oath as chief minister. Bhubneshwar Kalitha, a chief ministerial aspirant, made no bones about his unhappiness. Asked why he did not attend Gogoi’s swearing-in, Kalitha said: “I was not invited.”

Kalitha’s absence in Guwahati was surprising as he was tipped to become a Cabinet rank minister.

Congress sources said Manmohan will be retained as leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The leadership has decided to veto the criticism of Manmohanomics within the party in the sense that he would continue to be the party’s voice on economic policies even if they are drastically altered because of political considerations.

Sources said Sonia would call a meeting of the Congress Working Committee to discuss the political situation and chalk out strategies for the next round of Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. In Sonia’s scheme of things, the Uttar Pradesh polls are going to be the most crucial for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime and the survival of the BJP.

Sources said Sonia is struggling to revive the Uttar Pradesh unit. There is a demand for the removal of UPCC chief Sriprakash Jaiswal, but Sonia believes that a mere change of guard will not make a difference.

A section of partymen want Sonia to field Priyanka Gandhi as the party’s “star campaigner” in Uttar Pradesh. But the AICC chief is reluctant as Priyanka herself is unwilling to take up any formal position in the party. Second, the organisational set-up in Uttar Pradesh is so weak that many Congressmen fear that the “Priyanka factor” may prove to be inadequate.

There are also reservations on “exposing” Priyanka at a state-level election. “She is our reserve for the future,” an AICC functionary said. “There is no point making use of our USP.”


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