Raipur, June 10: Vidya Charan Shukla today held an impressive rally in Raipur, sending ripples through the Congress and the BJP and signalling that the November Assembly election will be a three-cornered contest.
The rally was seen as a show of strength for the 80-year-old leader who recently left the Congress to join Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Shukla braved the heat to lead a long procession for about 2 km on Malviya Road. The rally drew a large crowd, with most of it coming from neighbouring villages, puncturing chief minister Ajit Jogi’s claim that Shukla’s support base is limited to a few urban areas.
The NCP leader’s supporters alleged that Jogi had tried to prevent people from reaching Raipur for the rally. They were heard describing the chief minister as “Chhota Saddam Hussain”, accusing him of high-handedness, intimidation and misuse of official machinery.
Pawar declared Shukla as “future chief minister”. Today is the fourth foundation day of the NCP, which was formed by Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar after they walked out of the Congress in protest against Sonia Gandhi’s leadership on the ground of her foreign origin.
In his address, Pawar accused Jogi of intimidation and targeted the Congress leadership. He said he had no wish to run a coalition with the party in Maharashtra but was forced by circumstances. “We have entered into an alliance to keep the communal forces at bay,” Pawar said, ending speculation that he was softening his stand on Sonia.