The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kerala crisis fuels Congress faction feud in Delhi

New Delhi, April 8: The crisis over the Rajya Sabha nominations in the Kerala Congress has virtually derailed party president Sonia Gandhi’s AICC revamp plans.

Senior leader Arjun Singh, who has been quietly campaigning for a reshuffle of the present AICC team to clip the wings of general secretary Ambika Soni, is believed to have blamed her for the Kerala nominations fiasco and is silently backing rebellious state Congress veteran K. Karunakaran.

Soni, who is also one of the two political secretaries of the Congress president, is in charge of party affairs in Kerala. The Singh camp has been waging an undeclared war against the Soni faction, which, at present, holds the dominant position at the party headquarters.

Sonia’s revamp plan, which was widely expected to have been announced by Sunday, has been put on hold because of the bitter factional tussle.

Informed sources said P.C. Chacko, who lost the race for nomination to the Rajya Sabha last week despite the backing of Kerala party unit chief and Karunakaran’s son K. Muralidharan, held a surprise meeting with Singh here on Sunday. It reflected some fast-changing political equations, both in the Kerala unit and at the national level.

Despite being at the receiving end of Karunakaran’s personal political battle in Kerala when he lost the nomination race last week, Chacko has moved closer to the Karunakaran camp. During Sunday’s meeting, Chacko, a long-time Sharad Pawar loyalist, is believed to have won Singh’s support for Karunakaran.

Singh, the sources said, has held Soni responsible for pushing the party high command in an unenviable situation of virtually being forced to “retire” one of its two official nominees — AICC general secretary Vayalar Ravi and T. Balakrishna Pillai — from the April 14 polls. “She misread Karunakaran’s strength and misled the party chief,” said a source in the Singh camp.

The high command now appears to have realised that Karunakaran’s rebel nominee K. Govindan Nair is in a position to defeat one of the official nominees as at least 26 Congress MLAs are believed to be firmly with the veteran leader.

With 36 votes needed in the first count to win, the rebel nominee is also said to be assured of the support of at least eight MLAs from the Congress’ UDF coalition partners and four surplus votes of the Opposition LDF.

It was evident last evening that Soni was feeling the heat from the mounting attack by the rebellious Kerala leaders and her senior colleagues. She went into a huddle with some senior party leaders in the capital to find a way out of the Kerala muddle.

But Kerala is not the only headache for Soni, the effective number two in Sonia’s set-up. She has also come under pressure over her handling of affairs in Chhattisgarh, another Congress-ruled state under her charge.

The sources said Sonia has not taken kindly to chief minister Ajit Jogi’s “irresponsible” offensive on the alleged Intelligence Bureau operation to discredit him.

Soni is also being blamed for her failure to handle the situation properly in her capacity as the general secretary in-charge. But AICC circles believe that Jogi, considered close to V. George, former private secretary to Sonia and a Soni-baiter, had virtually fallen into the trap of his political rivals both within and outside the party.

Among those the party allegedly include Soni since Jogi is considered to be close to the anti-Soni camp. Jogi’s “ill-considered” moves last week have apparently given ammunition to his opponents within the party to strike at him.

With senior Chhattisgarh Congress leader V.C. Shukla threatening to quit the party over differences with the chief minister, there is talk in the party circles about the possibility of sending AICC treasurer Motilal Vora as a replacement for Jogi ahead of the November Assembly elections.

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