The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia’s warhorses get butterflies
- Natwar, Gehlot plan to sit out

New Delhi, Feb. 29: The Congress leadership wants the party to put its best foot forward in the coming general elections, but several of its bankable faces are believed to be developing cold feet.

The band of dissenters is threatening to outgrow those seeking tickets. Leading the pack today was former Karnataka chief minister and Shimoga MP S. Bangarappa, who went a step further and announced his decision to quit the party.

Other prominent warhorses in the same league are working committee member Natwar Singh, former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Lok Sabha MPs Satyabrata Chaturvedi, Sujan Singh Bundela and Balbir Singh.

Sources said Natwar conveyed his disinclination to contest from his Bharatpur home constituency in Rajasthan at a meeting of the party’s state screening committee led by senior leader Karan Singh.

Natwar is believed to have suggested an alternative candidate, but Karan clarified that his team would not entertain any recommendation.

The BJP’s Lok Sabha MP Vishvendra Singh is said to be ready to cross over to the Congress and become its candidate from Bharatpur. But Natwar has reportedly blocked his entry because of their local rivalry.

Gehlot was considered by the party for the Jodhpur seat, which the former chief minister represented in the past. But the Rajasthan leader, unsure of the support of the influential Jat and Vishnoi communities, conveyed his reluctance to enter the poll fray.

Gehlot is a member of the Assembly from the Sardarpura segment of the Jodhpur parliamentary constituency.

Chaturvedi, a party spokesman, too, has sought to be “excused” this time as he is not ready to fight from his Khajuraho seat in Madhya Pradesh. He has even gone around his constituency, “apologising to his supporters” for the inability to fight the polls.

His reluctance has fuelled party speculation that he might be contemplating leaving the party. Chaturvedi, however, has scotched the rumours.

Bundela, the MP from Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, is also disinclined to fight. His decision is apparently prompted by his proximity to the ruling Samajwadi Party. A relative of Bundela’s, elected on a Congress ticket to the Assembly, has joined the Samajwadi and is now a minister in the Mulayam Singh Yadav cabinet.

Another one who has stepped back is the Jalandhar MP, Balbir. Working committee member Manmohan Singh has expressed his reluctance to fight from Jalandhar, citing health as a reason.

Sources said one reason for the leaders developing cold feet, especially in Uttar Pradesh, could be the lack of an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party.

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