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Unity hurdle cramps Cong in three states

New Delhi, Feb. 5: The good intentions and lofty ideals that dominated the Jaipur conclave and Rahul Gandhi’s subsequent meetings with Congress office-bearers might have lifted the morale in the party but it will take more than rhetoric for the change to reflect on the ground.

For all the stress on internal unity at these meetings, top leaders concede that factionalism poses the main difficulty in choosing the face of the Congress in election-bound Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh.

Sources told The Telegraph today that while there were too many claimants in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the high command does not want to oblige the main contender, former chief minister Ajit Jogi, in Chhattisgarh.

The Congress has also not declared its candidates for chief minister in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.

The leaders argue that the Congress does not have a tradition of projecting a candidate for chief minister before elections, but sources said fear of internal sabotage drives this practice.

Rahul Gandhi had broken the tradition by announcing Amarinder Singh’s name in Punjab, a surprise decision that boomeranged.

In Karnataka, former chief minister S.M. Krishna is sulking. He wants adequate rehabilitation after his removal as external affairs minister in the Manmohan Singh government, and the best available option would be his projection as chief minister. Krishna registered his displeasure with the leadership by staying away from the Jaipur Chintan Shivir but met both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul later to stake claim on the state leadership.

However, Krishna is over 80 and most state leaders are opposed to his leadership. One Congress leader said: “The election will happen soon, within two-three months, and there is no need to change the PCC president at this stage. If Krishna is made PCC chief, there will be a revolt in the state unit.”

While the current state unit chief, Parmeshwar, is not seen as candidate for chief minister, Congress legislature party leader Siddaramaiah, Union minister Mallikarjun Kharge and AICC general secretary B.K. Hariprasad are strong contenders.

Madhya Pradesh has long been a fortress of groupism, where in the past Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh passionately held on to their own little fiefs despite the BJP’s phenomenal rise. Arjun and Madhavrao are dead, but Digvijaya, Kamal, Suresh Pachauri, Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Madhavrao’s son Jyotiraditya and Arjun’s son Ajay continue to work at cross-purposes despite several interventions by Sonia in the recent past.

The majority of party workers want Jyotiraditya to be projected against the BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan, but Sonia and Rahul would run a risk by going against the wishes of Digvijaya who remains the most powerful Congress leader in the state. Many leaders believe the decision to give the reins to Pachauri in the last election did not yield results because of Digvijaya’s ire.

In Rajasthan, which also goes to the polls this year, the party appears to be in a crisis as chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s continuance in office has always remained in doubt.

The Congress has benefited in Delhi by constantly backing Sheila Dikshit’s leadership, but has not been able to repeat this in other states. Rahul’s real test will be to show he can tackle the factionalism with a firm hand.