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Congress hints at truce with rebels

Narayan Rane

New Delhi, July 22: A day after sending out a tough message to rebel Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma that personal ambition cannot be put above party interest, the Congress leadership hinted at a reconciliation plan involving a change of guard in the state at an appropriate time.

Efforts were on to persuade the rebels to hold their horses as Tarun Gogoi’s removal as chief minister had not been ruled out even as several leaders privately said the Assam situation had been clumsily handled and reflected a crisis of leadership at the top.

“Eventually he will have to go as it is a question of majority will, not individual choices,” a senior leader told The Telegraph.

The demand for action against Sarma by some ministers of the Gogoi cabinet is unlikely to attract any response, with the high command not willing to precipitate the crisis.

The party officially acknowledged Sarma’s “service and contribution” and hoped he would do nothing that harms the Congress. “Sarma is mature enough to understand that party interest is above personal interest,” spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said at the regular press briefing.

Softening the harsh line taken yesterday, he said: “Personal ambition, race for office and political opportunism at times compel individuals to behave in negation of a balanced political conduct.

But experience and realities of political life tell us the party is like a mother without which a child is orphaned. However deviant and delinquent a child may be, he finds safety, solace and growth in the embrace of the mother.”

Asked if he was calling the rebel leader “deviant and delinquent”, Surjewala said: “Sarma is a responsible, loyal and popular leader. His service to the party is valued. He is grounded in the grassroots and has toiled for the party for years. We are not attaching any labels on anybody, we are only talking of principles.”

Because of speculation that Rahul Gandhi, who felt some senior leaders were unduly favouring dissidents, intervened at the last minute to save Gogoi, a question was asked whether or not party interest was greater than “putra-moh” (affection for the son).

Surjewala replied: “Party is bigger than individuals and families.”

The Congress leadership cannot afford to appear not to care at a time the party has to be rebuilt, hence efforts for rapprochement have been initiated in Maharashtra too where industries minister Narayan Rane resigned yesterday. The Konkan leader has been asked to meet Sonia Gandhi tomorrow after his meeting with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre this afternoon failed to resolve his grievances.

“The CM tried to persuade me to withdraw my resignation, and emphasised that the party and the government needed me. But I asked them to address the issues raised by me in my resignation letter. The CM decided that he will seek an appointment with Sonia Gandhi in the next two days, and I along with CM and Thakre will meet her.”

Sources said that with his chief ministerial dream now lost, Rane wants an Assembly ticket for his younger son Nitesh.