The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia lieutenants stay away

New Delhi, Sept. 22: Sonia Gandhi may be toiling hard in Jammu and Kashmir, but some of her key lieutenants from the state have kept themselves away from the polls.

Karan Singh and former Union ministers M.L. Fotedar and Mohammad Shafi Qureshi have not shown up though campaigning for the second phase ended today. Worse, the trio even refused to be part of the candidate selection process.

Singh is a Congress Rajya Sabha MP, while Fotedar is part of the Congress president’s coterie. Qureshi was until recently head of the state unit.

Sources close to Sonia said these leaders have chosen to stay away at their “own bidding”. “We had sent circulars to all senior party leaders. The JKPCC chief, Ghulam Nabi Azad, too, had invited these leaders, left messages, but so far there has been no response. I do not know why they have not campaigned so far,” said an AICC functionary.

Singh, Fotedar and Qureshi are also members of the AICC’s Kashmir committee, headed by Pranab Mukherjee. The panel, set up many months ago, has not held even a single meeting in the state, preferring to operate from Delhi. “Perhaps, Fotedar, Singh and Qureshi are offering ‘logistic’ support sitting in Delhi,” a senior leader commented.

So far, Sonia has spearheaded the campaign in Kashmir. Manmohan Singh, part of the Kashmir group, also addressed some public meetings in the Jammu region. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh and Chhattisgarh’s Ajit Jogi also attended public meetings.

Another state-level stalwart and former Kashmir unit president, Ghulam Rasool Kar, has declined to join the campaign. Kar, once dubbed “Beant Singh of Kashmir”, is said to be unhappy with the appointment of Azad as PCC chief. He was compared with Beant Singh, a former Punjab chief minister, for taking on the might of the militants.

Party sources said factionalism in the state unit might have prevented Singh, Fotedar and Qureshi from participating in the campaign. It is an open secret that Qureshi does not like Azad and may be still upset at the way he was shunted out as the PCC chief.

But AICC functionaries said Sonia had no option but to sack Qureshi because he was refusing to camp in Srinagar to kick off the party’s campaign. Fotedar is reluctant to campaign as he does not enjoy mass support. There is no plausible explanation for Karan Singh other than the fact his son is a minister in Farooq Abdullah government.

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