The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Twin tests in Shimla & Shillong

New Delhi, March 1: A delicate task ahead in one state, adroit manoeuvres in another. For the Congress high command, poll victories have brought with them their accompanying challenges.

In faction-riven Himachal Pradesh, where the party has registered a comfortable majority, the leadership has to ensure the smooth accession of a chief minister. In Meghalaya, where the Congress has emerged as the single-largest party, the challenge is forming a government.

As the results poured in, party chief Sonia Gandhi sent AICC general secretary in charge of Himachal Mohsina Kidwai and working committee members Moti Lal Vora and R.K. Dhawan as central observers to Shimla to oversee the election of the legislature party leader. The meeting of the newly elected legislators is scheduled for Tuesday.

Sonia also appointed AICC general secretaries Oscar Fernandes and Mukul Wasnik and CWC member Pranab Mukherjee as central observers for the Meghalaya Congress legislature party meeting.

Their job is to cobble together a coalition, as the Congress has won only 22 seats in the 60-member Assembly. The party is looking at the possibility of joining hands with the Nationalist Congress Party, which has won 14 seats. Former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma heads the NCP in the state. The two parties were part of the outgoing coalition government.

In Himachal, where the Congress has won 40 of the 65 seats for which elections were held, the central observers will have to contend with the claims of former chief minister Veerbhadra Singh and state unit president Vidya Stokes.

Stokes is widely believed to be the high command’s favourite, but Veerbhadra commands the support of a majority of the newly elected party MLAs.

The anti-Veerbhadra camp, of which AICC spokesman Anand Sharma is a member, is already campaigning for Stokes’ election as CLP leader. There are also talks that a third person might throw the hat into the ring as a consensus candidate. One such candidate is All India Mahila Congress chief Chandresh Kumari, who entered the Assembly from the Dharamshala constituency.

Veerbhadra is believed to have made covert attempts to make the going tough for Stokes in her Kumarsain constituency. But the state Congress chief, who had to contend with a rebel candidate — a Veerbhadra loyalist — romped home with a comfortable margin.

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