The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong CMs to lead poll charge

New Delhi, May 18: Digvijay Singh might have the rare chance of leading a Congress government for the third consecutive term in Madhya Pradesh, Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot get second successive terms in Delhi and Rajasthan, respectively, and Ajit Jogi return for a full term in Chhattisgarh as the party central leadership favours fighting the November Assembly elections with them in the forefront.

“Leadership stability in the four Congress-ruled states is our strength and we will project this in the run-up to the elections and contrast this strength with the unending leadership confusion in the rival BJP camp in all four states,” said senior party general secretary Ambika Soni.

The decision was taken yesterday at the first round of meetings of the Congress strategy committee in the capital. The three-day parleys are the party central leadership’s first major Assembly poll exercise.

Though it is not the Congress’ usual practice to project a chief ministerial candidate, the panel headed by Manmohan Singh has seen potential advantage in highlighting the party’s strength vis-à-vis the BJP, its main rival in four poll-bound states, as far as the leadership question is concerned.

Emphasising the point, Soni referred to the rumblings within the BJP against its projected chief ministerial candidates, be it Madan Lal Khurana in Delhi, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan or Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh. “You cannot find even a single crack in the Congress to make an inroad. (The) Congress is the best election-fighting machinery in the country,” she said.

The meetings focused on Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram. With its move to project leadership as the Congress’ strength, the panel leaders advised Delhi Congress chief Subash Chopra to bury differences with Dikshit and campaign under her.

The party units of the three states and their legislature branches gave their assessments of the ground situation in their respective states. The purpose of the exercise, Soni said, was to gear up the party, its frontal organisations at booth, block, district and state levels for the polls, identify issues on which to fight the elections and counter potential issues on which attacks could come from the rival camps.

She said the so-called anti-incumbency factor could be effectively countered with a “cohesive strategy”, on which the panel was working. Such a strategy could be a mix of attack on the anti-people policies of the NDA government and effective projection of the Congress governments’ achievements on the development front over the past five years.

The panel took up several issues, including possible alliances, Soni said. Jogi, following his interface with the panel leaders, ruled out any alliance in Chhattisgarh, claiming that his only rival was the BJP, which was in disarray. Neither the BSP nor the Nationalist Congress Party headed by former Congress leader V.C. Shukla posed any threat to the Congress, he said.

Jogi, who had put himself in a corner a month ago by alleging an IB operation to defame him in the run-up to the elections, refused to comment on the progress of the CBI inquiry into the issue. The Prime Minister had ordered the inquiry after informing Jogi that the IB document he had furnished while making the allegations was forged. Soni hinted that Jogi would not cooperate with the CBI.

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