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Too many leaders hobble Cong in MP

Bhopal, Jan. 2: At a recent state Congress meeting in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, such was the scramble to grab a seat on the dais that Digvijaya Singh lost his cool and chose to sit among the party workers till some order was restored.

Two key leaders, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath, did not even turn up because of their differences with the man who had called the meeting: B.K. Hari Prasad, Congress general secretary in charge of party affairs in the state.

That meeting in Sagar district encapsulated what happens to be the Congress’s biggest problem ahead of the November Assembly elections: too many regional chieftains and, as a result, uncontained factionalism.

The faction fights are so intense that Prasad wants Sonia Gandhi to shift him to some other state. “BK”, as he is known in party circles, has had problems dealing with almost all the satraps: Digvijaya, Jyotiraditya, Kamal Nath, Suresh Pachauri, state unit chief Kantilal Bhuria, leader of the Opposition Ajay Singh (son of the late Arjun Singh).

Prasad, who cut his political teeth under Sanjay Gandhi, privately admits that the presence of so many camps poses the biggest obstacle to running the state party organisation.

The selection of block unit chiefs and district and state-level executive bodies has to be done by striking a “balance” among the various factions. Even anti-BJP agitations inside and outside the Assembly are guided by group loyalties.

The BJP has been in power in the state for the past nine years and has won the majority of Lok Sabha seats too. An internal survey, commissioned recently by Rahul Gandhi, has identified Madhya Pradesh as a “change state” where the Congress’s prospects of winning the next election are high.

But the survey has attached a rider: the party needs a “credible face” to lead it.

Initially, the central Congress leadership had zeroed in on Jyotiraditya because of his young age, clean image and royal linage. But his recent elevation as Union minister of state with independent charge of power appears to have left him lukewarm about state politics.

Jyotiraditya, who had begun travelling and meeting party workers across the state, has curtailed his tours since becoming Union minister and confined his interactions to his home turf of Gwalior-Guna.

Bhuria, a tribal, has earned a reputation for shooting his mouth off. He recently accused BJP leaders of womanising without substantiating it.

In Congress circles, Bhuria has been accused of holding state-level agitations without involving the leader of the Opposition, Ajay Singh. The Bhuria camp has levelled counter charges, pointing to Ajay’s failure to take the state unit into confidence while chalking out the floor strategy for the Assembly. Middle-rung party leaders regret that factionalism in general, and the Bhuria-Singh tussle in particular, has weakened the party’s “killer instinct”.

The state information commission is left without a single member and Madhya Pradesh tops the list of crimes against women, but the Congress has failed to corner the state government on either issue.