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Sathe salt on Sonia’s Andhra wound

Mumbai, Aug. 17: The Congress suffered another jolt today when two veteran leaders from Maharashtra broke away in the cause of a separate Vidarbha state.

Vasant Sathe and .K.P. Salve formed the Vidarbha Rajya Nirman Congress, barely days after eight Andhra Pradesh legislators from the Telengana region sent in resignations from their elected posts to press their demand for a separate pradesh committee.

A couple of months ago, senior leader Arjun Singh had called for a halt to the “pursuance of selfish interests by senior leaders at the cost of the party”.

Sathe tried to cushion the blow by saying the new party would still be “morally with the parent party’’ and continue to look up to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi as its leader.

“We have to go separate ways simply because we cannot be members of two political parties,’’ he said. The Vidarbha outfit, Sathe emphasised, would have a “distinct and independent identity’’.

Stepping up efforts to consolidate the move, Salve held a meeting of like-minded leaders in Nagpur and declared he was with Sathe “in his every move”.

Salve further said at the meeting — reportedly attended by over 300 Congress members, including Banwarilal Purohit and former MLA Haribhau Naik — that other party leaders from Vidarbha should break away and join the new outfit. The Rajya Nirman is expected to take concrete shape by the first week of next month.

At the meeting held at Salve’s home, the new outfit also decided to join hands with any group or party that supported the statehood call.

This, however, is not the first time that the Congress has had to face serious trouble from some of its Maharashtra leaders over the Vidarbha demand.

The party first went into a tizzy in 1997 when the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee passed a resolution urging the high command to form a Vidarbha Congress Committee.

The Congress even set up a three-member panel, led by Pranab Mukherjee, to look into the demand, which soon lost its sheen as the AICC tried hard to bury the issue.

A bigger threat loomed in 2000 when senior Congress leader and present Maharashtra unit chief Ranjit Deshmukh threatened to walk away with 26 MLAs who were rooting for a Vidarbha state. Vilasrao Deshmukh was the chief minister then.

The rebellion was quelled only after Srikanth Jichkar, a senior party leader and Vidarbha expert, presented a hurriedly-prepared report on the unviability of the new state.

The 50-page report said Vidarbha would never survive because of the severe lack of financial resources to run a government.

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