The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cracks in Sonia ‘model state’

Bhopal, Aug. 2: Factionalism has made a comeback in Sonia Gandhi’s “model state” with Arjun Singh’s supporters propping up his son Ajay as the next Madhya Pradesh chief minister.

State Congress spokesperson Lalit Srivastva himself led the charge, saying: “Digvijay Singh has done a good job in last 10 years. Now he should make way for young Ajay Singh.”

The spokesperson went on to predict: “Ajay Singh nishchit hi agle mukhya mantri honge (Ajay Singh will definitely be the next chief minister).” Ajay is a minister in Digvijay Singh’s cabinet.

Srivastva’s remarks come close on the heels of AICC general secretary Kamal Nath’s assertion that the leadership issue is wide open. Nath, who unsuccessfully bid for chief ministership in 1993 and 1998, said newly-elected party MLAs would decide on the chief minister after the Assembly elections, implying that Digvijay was not an automatic choice.

Srivastva is an Arjun Singh protégé and his remarks are seen as an attempt by the veteran Congress leader’s camp to prevent Jyotiraditya Scindia from becoming the second in line to Digvijay.

In the 10 years, Digvijay has worked to ensure that he has no rival in the state. He was helped along the way by the exit of challengers like the Shukla brothers, Shyama Charan and Vidya Charan, Motilal Vora and Ajit Jogi from the scene when Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh.

Madhavrao Scindia’s death and Arjun Singh’s successive electoral defeats further consolidated Digvijay as the undisputed leader of the state.

Digvijay ’s camp has reacted sharply to Srivastva’s remarks, accusing Arjun Singh, Nath and AICC general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, Ambika Soni, of fomenting trouble.

“The fact is that Digvijay has been Congress’ sole campaigner and mascot for the last 10 years. Nobody can deny him the rightful claim of continuing as chief minister,” said Radha Krishna Malviya, president of the state Congress committee.

Malviya wondered how a party spokesman could openly canvas for another claimant.

Suresh Pachauri, Rajya Sabha MP and Kamal Nath supporter, would not distance himself from Srivastva’s remarks. Pachauri, who was with the spokesman for two hours to formulate Congress’ media strategy for November’s Assembly polls, said: “I will ask Srivastva if he made such a remark.”

Ironically, Arjun Singh himself gave a clean chit to Digvijay two days ago, saying the party would go to polls under his leadership.

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