The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress CMs’ fate in Gujarat poll balance

New Delhi, Dec. 1: The result of the Assembly elections in Gujarat will decide the fate of two Congress chief ministers and a reshuffle in the All India Congress Committee secretariat.

With the polls drawing near, the Congress has started weighing the pros and cons of the outcome of the Gujarat polls, taking into account various aspects.

Congress sources admitted that the outcome of the Gujarat polls would have an impact “internally”, where some AICC office-bearers might find themselves at the receiving end.

“There would be questions about accountability and the need to tone up the party apparatus. In that scenario, some AICC general secretaries may be shifted or replaced and the coterie around Sonia may see changes,” a Congress Working Committee member said.

The result in Gujarat will also have a bearing on Maharashtra and Rajasthan, where a section of the party has been demanding a change of guard.

Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh recently sought permission to expand his council of ministers but he was asked to wait till the Gujarat polls.

There is a view in the party that if it fails to win Gujarat, a demand for Deshmukh’s exit on the basis of “non-performance” would gain momentum.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, reeling under the pressure of drought and starvation deaths, would also come under scrutiny.

A number of state party leaders and central observers have told Sonia that under Gehlot, the Congress may not be able to retain Rajasthan.

The party high command, cautiously optimistic about a victory, has assessed that even if it fails to wrest the state from Narendra Modi, there will be no threat to party chief Sonia Gandhi or the Congress’ bid to triumph in the next round of general elections.

Sonia and her close advisers are convinced that even if Modi wins the BJP and its allied outfits would not be able to “repeat the Gujarat experiment” in other election-bound states such Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.

Congress leaders point out that the sharp communal polarisation in Gujarat during and after the Godhra incident was the manifestation of simmering disquiet and a “campaign of hate” set in motion years ago.

Sources close to the Congress chief said if the party fails to snatch Gujarat, it would help the BJP and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to stay on but not damage Congress prospects of replacing the BJP in the next elections.

As a senior aide put it: “A defeat in Gujarat would be a setback in the sense that it would not hasten the process of disintegration of the NDA. But beyond that, it would not cause damage.”

The sources said Sonia was more concerned about winning seats from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. At present, the Congress has 20 out of 119 Lok Sabha MPs from these three states.

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