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Sonia finds space for dissent in state units

Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, Aug. 31: Sonia Gandhi has begun a balancing act between factions in state units as the tendency to put all the eggs in one basket has proved disastrous in the last few years.

The latest decision to appoint Captain Ajay Yadav chairman of the election campaign committee in poll-bound Haryana shows the Congress president is even prepared to go against the wishes of chief ministers to balance factional interests.

Sources in the party revealed that Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had strongly opposed Yadav’s choice. But Sonia sent a firm message to the chief minister that all the factions belonged to the Congress and leaders who differed with him would have to be taken along in the larger interest of the party.

Sonia appointed Kiran Chaudhary, another critic of the chief minister, co-chairperson.

Yadav, a six-term MLA, had resigned as power minister recently in protest against Hooda’s style of functioning. He had been sulking after the finance portfolio had been taken away from him but the high command persuaded him to withdraw the resignation.

Even the publicity committee has not gone into the hands of Hooda and his son Deepender, an MP. Industrialist Naveen Jindal has been appointed its head.

In Maharashtra, another poll-bound state, Sonia sent out a similar signal by making rebel Narayan Rane the campaign committee head. Another dissident leader, Ashok Chavan, was made the chief of the coordination committee.

Chavan and Rane are both aspirants for the chief minister’s post and are strongly opposed to the incumbent, Prithviraj Chavan. Rane, too, had resigned recently as minister, openly saying he would not work under Chavan.

Such adjustments were alien to Sonia’s work culture as she used to rely solely on chief ministers in matters of the states. Even state unit presidents were rarely given much importance.

Sheila Dikshit, for instance, ruled with total dominance in Delhi while Ashok Gehlot was given a free hand in Rajasthan despite credible opposition to his leadership from powerful leaders.

Tarun Gogoi in Assam and Virbhadra Singh in Himachal have also enjoyed complete dominance.

In the past, too, chief ministers like Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh and Vilasrao Deshmukh in Maharashtra were allowed to ignore other powerful leaders and given a free run in both administrative and political affairs.

In Andhra Pradesh, government and politics for the Congress meant Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy and nothing else.

In Haryana, Hooda had been allowed to bulldoze dissidence for years. But several top leaders quit the Congress in recent weeks as there was no hope for them to rise against Hooda, who not only dominated the political scene but also changed the entire Congress politics in the state from a rainbow coalition of castes to a Jat machine.

In Maharashtra, mass leaders like Rane and Ashok Chavan were ignored solely because of the current chief minister’s axis with the central leadership. This created a revolt-like situation and the high command was forced to seriously consider a change of guard in the state barely months before the coming elections.

The chief minister somehow survived but other leaders have been asked to work sincerely as the top post would be kept open if the party returned to power. Although that possibility appears remote, state leaders want the high command to nurture the various factions and promote a bouquet of leaders instead of relying on just one person.