The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia revamp hits hurdle

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Veteran Congress leaders in Rajasthan have thrust a spoke in party president Sonia Gandhi’s plans for an organisational revamp in the state.

Congress Working Committee member from the state Natwar Singh, former chief ministers Shiv Charan Mathur and Hiralal Devpuria, former state chief Nawal Kishore Sharma and senior MPs Colonel Sona Ram Chaudhury and Shish Ram Ola have made common cause with Girija Vyas over her imminent replacement as state Congress chief.

These leaders, known for their rivalry with chief minister Ashok Gehlot, have been meeting here over the past two days to register their protests with Sonia.

They have conveyed separately their unhappiness over her decision to continue with Gehlot as chief minister till the Assembly polls later this year and replace Vyas with B.D. Kalla. Kalla, a minister, is a Gehlot nominee.

Sonia, however, has not taken kindly to the party leaders’ group meetings and “provocative statements”. Yesterday, AICC general-secretary in charge of Rajasthan affairs Ambika Soni urged them to desist from creating confusion in the party through provocative statements.

According to party sources, Sonia has conveyed to Natwar Singh her disapproval of his involvement in the anti-Gehlot campaign, especially because he is a CWC member.

Natwar Singh, apparently prompted by the censure, denied to the media today that he was indulging in anti-Gehlot activities.

Media reports about his involvement, Natwar Singh said, were a case of “fanciful reporting” without any factual basis. He admitted though that his home was the meeting venue for senior Congress leaders from Rajasthan.

Natwar Singh justified the meetings, saying as a CWC member it was his duty to listen to partymen’s views and convey these to the high command.

According to the sources, Vyas was the candidate of anti-Gehlot groups in the state Congress when she was made state unit president three years ago.

With Vyas’ removal imminent after her running battles with Gehlot, she has rallied the senior party leaders to turn the heat on the chief minister. Vyas, apparently, holds Gehlot responsible for her likely ouster.

Sonia, the sources said, is treading cautiously because of resistance from the senior leaders. She, however, remains firm on appointing Kalla as the state unit chief, sources said.

Sonia will pacify her senior colleagues from Rajasthan before effecting the change, likely by this weekend. A sop now being considered is to bring back Vyas as the Mahila Congress chief in the AICC.

This post is likely to fall vacant after the Himachal Pradesh polls as the incumbent, Chandresh Kumari, will join the fray to enter the state Assembly.

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