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Party’s Arjun dilemma

New Delhi, May 15: Arjun Singh’s move to rake up the quota row has lost him many friends in the Congress but he is determined to carry on.

Congress sources said Arjun is willing to brazen out all criticism and even sacrifice his cabinet berth. But Congressmen who view him as a “spoiler” concede that given the political dimensions of the controversy, the high command is unlikely to act against him.

The “spoiler” slur on Arjun comes in the context of the quota row clouding Sonia Gandhi’s record victory in Rae Bareli. The controversy has eroded the euphoria the party could have built on ' it is instead being criticised and abused by the opinion-making classes.

Arjun, according to a protege, is too senior a leader to want his political canvas limited to a ministerial berth. In his four-decade-long career, he has been chief minister, governor, cabinet minister, vice-president of the Congress and has had berths in the CWC, Central Election Committee, parliamentary board, cabinet committee on political affairs and other “core groups”.

As he inches towards his 77th birthday on November 5, Singh is believed to be aiming at going down in history as a reformer.

The “uncharitable” view in the Congress is that he has “delusions of grandeur”. His critics say he has taken his spiritual guru Mauni Baba’s prediction that he would hold a high office ' Prime Minister, President or Vice-President ' much too seriously.

Amid such allegations, some Congress leaders say Arjun’s conduct should be seen in a larger context. As he fought Sonia’s proxy battle with Narasimha Rao during 1992-96, he apparently feels his “unflinching loyalty” should not go unnoticed.

It is, therefore, significant that Arjun has apparently not sought any prior “direction” from Sonia, who too has maintained a studied silence on the quota controversy.

Arjun is said to be unhappy with the way he has been treated by the Manmohan Singh government. It is an open secret that he and Manmohan are not on the best of terms. This is in contrast to the warmth Manmohan shares with Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil and Sharad Pawar.

Again, at a recent AICC meeting chaired by Motilal Vora, he was the only senior leader to have been left out of confidential consultations.

Partymen feel a combination of incidents has propelled Arjun onto a course where he has thrown caution to the winds to promote himself at the cost of the party’s image and perception.

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