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Antony meets Cong team

Ranchi, June 22: Former Union defence minister and senior Congressman A.K. Antony today held two exclusive meetings with chosen party members from Jharkhand in New Delhi, signalling the central leadership’s seriousness to revive a demoralised party that failed to send a single MP to Parliament from the state.

Rajya Sabha MP Antony, who chairs the Congress committee on prospective alliances, spoke first to Pradesh Congress head Sukhdeo Bhagat and cabinet minister Rajendra Prasad Singh, widely regarded as No. 2 in the Hemant Soren-led ruling coalition.

Then, Antony and the rest of the panel members — former Union minister Mukul Wasnik and party national secretaries R.C. Khuntia and Avinash Pandey — held individual Q&A sessions with 16 Congress leaders.

Bhagat and Singh apart, the delegation from Jharkhand included Hemant’s cabinet ministers Geetashree Oraon, K.N. Tripathi and Yogendra Sao; Rajya Sabha MPs Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu and Dhiraj Prasad Sahu; defeated Lok Sabha candidates Subodh Kant Sahay, Rameshwar Oraon, Ajay Dubey, Furkan Ansari and Tilakdhari Singh; heads of state Mahila Congress and youth Congress Abha Sinha and Anup Singh and former MLA Alamgir Alam.

The four main issues thrashed today included an analysis of Lok Sabha losses, revival of party organisation, deliberation on whether the Congress should shed JMM and RJD — alliance partners in the state — to fight upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections alone, and necessary poll preparations.

While Antony is believed to have patiently heard out Bhagat, who is in favour of the Congress going alone in the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha polls, he also took the opinions of others who advised caution.

According to sources, Sahu Ansari and Sahay are understood to have said that Jharkhand Pradesh Congress required mature leadership.

They apparently said Bhagat lacked experience to cultivate a collective leadership.

Sahay is also understood to have said that “over-dominance” of some central leaders created a parallel power centre in the party, which ultimately boomeranged in polls.

On alliance with the JMM, party leaders remained divided. “The main point is whether the party could make best use of the alliance. There was an obvious Modi wave in Jharkhand but even after the JMM won two out of four seats it contested in alliance with us. Alliance is no guarantee of good electoral performance. Organisation and selection of candidates is most important. We made wrong choices,” a senior leader said.

Sources said central leadership would take a decision on alliance at the “right time”.

Over phone, Tripathi said this was part of ongoing brainstorming sessions to discuss Congress strategies. “It wasn’t a Jharkhand-specific event. Leaders from other states were also summoned,” he said.