The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shukla set to leave party for Pawar

Raipur, April 7: Old war-horse Vidya Charan Shukla is set to leave the Congress to join the Nationalist Congress Party on April 11, thus giving a shot in the arm to the BJP in Chhattisgarh.

The Congress leader, a nine-time member of Parliament and close associate of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, said he is walking out in protest against chief minister Ajit Jogi’s style of functioning and party president Sonia Gandhi’s “indifference” towards genuine party workers in Chhattisgarh.

Shukla has promised an “unexpected development” and claimed that November Assembly polls would be a contest between him and “Jogi’s Congress”. His confidence has pleased the BJP, which says the formation of a “third front” would help its “oust Jogi” mission.

Shukla would head the Chhattisgarh unit of the NCP and his exit is set to make a dent in the Congress vote bank, particularly in the urban areas where it is fighting hard against the BJP. He is eyeing all disgruntled party workers and those failing to get Congress nominations for the polls.

The disgruntled leader could mar the Congress’ prospects in at least 30 Assembly seats, say independent observers. His supporters are extremely upset with Sonia and Ambika Soni, the Congress general-secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh, for making “no effort” to keep Shukla in the party. However, neither Sonia nor Soni seems overly perturbed about Shukla leaving the Congress.

Jogi also does not seem bothered about Shukla’s exit. The chief minister feels Shukla would harm the BJP as his area of influence would be restricted to the pro-BJP upper caste, which is hotly contested by both Shukla and Rajnath Singh, the BJP general-secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s bid to rope in Shukla is an indicator of continuing hostility between him and Sonia. The NCP and the Congress are sharing power in Maharashtra and, recently, Pawar had softened his stand towards Sonia giving rise to a speculation that he was open to rapprochement. However, Shukla’s move reflects a different gameplan, say Congress Working Committee members.

Chhattisgarh is important for the Congress in the coming Assembly polls. A victory would comfort Sonia on two counts. First, it would strengthen the Congress president’s hold over tribal voters. Second, it would justify Sonia’s choice of Jogi as chief minister amid violent protests.

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