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Selloff cracks Intuc down middle
- Congress chief sets up panel to mediate between fighting factions

New Delhi, Sept. 22: Differences over disinvestment and labour reforms have split the Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc) from the middle.

Alarmed but short of ideas, AICC chief Sonia Gandhi has set up an eight-member panel to bring about a rapprochement among the warring Intuc factions. The trade union is an affiliated body of the Congress and its 67 lakh members have a dual membership option.

Sonia’s move to appoint a panel, however, has not gone down well with both factions claiming that in the final run, Sonia stands to lose Intuc support. The committee consists of Pranab Mukherjee, Oscar Fernandes, Ahmad Patel, Pawan Singh Ghatowar, Vayalar Ravi, Ram Chandra Khuntia, Intuc chief G. Sanjeeva Reddy and the leader of the breakaway group, Kaanta Sood. The panel will meet on Tuesday.

The breakaway Intuc group has the support of P.V. Rajeshwar Rao, son of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, Maharashtra Congress unit chief Govindrao Adik and his Uttaranchal counterpart Harish Rawat. There are several other party MPs, ex-MPs and leaders like Pradeep Bhattacharya, Janardhan Gehlot, Dhiraj Prasad Sahu and K.S. Chatterjee who are part of the breakaway Intuc.

The Kaanta camp claimed that Reddy was supporting the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s “anti-labour” policies on disinvestment and the proposed labour reforms.

However, the Intuc chief denied the charge. The Congress’ stands on key economic issues are marred by several flip-flops, Reddy said.

The rift within the Intuc is so wide that in as many as 16 states, there are parallel bodies claiming affiliation with the Congress. Informed sources said the trouble began in Ranchi where Reddy was appointed Intuc chief in November 2001.

Within days, the Congress leadership discovered that Reddy was not “one of them”. Some Sonia supporters even dubbed him as the “Narasimha Rao nominee” but their efforts to dislodge him failed to produce result. A section of the Congress Working Committee then propped up the Kaanta faction which, in turn, summoned a “general body” to remove Reddy from the post.

According to the Intuc constitution, the president can be removed by a two-thirds majority. Amid conflicting reports about the support enjoyed by Reddy and Kaanta, the matter has been moved in court.

AICC leaders said for tactical reasons, it had not formally recognised a split in the union.

The big question doing the rounds at the 24 Akbar Road headquarters of the Congress is that if the split was “unauthorised”, how is it that the state party chiefs of Maharashtra and Uttaranchal have agreed to become office-bearers of the breakaway group.

Congress leaders said that after Sonia realised that Reddy could be removed, she is making efforts to win him over. “That is why he has been named in the panel to discuss labour reforms,” a leader handling labour-related issues said.

The breakaway group’s “chargesheet” against Reddy is endless. Apart from alleging that Reddy was blindly toeing the BJP line on disinvestment and labour reforms, the Kaanta camp said the Intuc chief had failed to undertake any popular campaign against the Centre’s policies.

It also alleged that Reddy was “hobnobbing” with Sonia detractors like Sharad Pawar and Jayalalithaa. In Maharashtra, he had appointed Nationalist Congress leader Sachin Ahir as the union’s youth wing chief.

In Bengal, Subrata Mukherjee continues to function as the state Intuc chief. Subrata had quit the Congress to join Mamata Banerjee when she broke away from the party to form the Trinamul Congress.

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