The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia’s summer of discontent

New Delhi, June 13: An in-house rebel in Haryana, a tremor in the Northeast, disquiet in the heartland, a jolt in Andhra.

The Congress today appeared headed for a summer of discontent after a series of episodes across the country in the space of a few hours.

In Haryana, Kuldeep Bishnoi, the son of Haryana strongman Bhajan Lal, was served a showcause notice for criticising the B.S. Hooda government for clearing a Rs 25,000-crore project for industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Sources said it signalled the beginning of dissidence against the chief minister, with the Bhajan Lal clan as the nucleus.

Thousands of kilometres away in Meghalaya, Sonia Gandhi’s confidants Oscar Fernandes and Ved Prakash virtually genuflected before her arch-adversary, Purno Sangma, for his support to save the party-led government.

In Uttar Pradesh, resentment flared at the alleged “victimisation” of the Bachchan family by the income-tax department. Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya and son Abhishek were issued default notices that prompted the Samajwadi Party to protest against the “harassment”.

The Left hit the streets against the petro price hike but, more than the protest, it got the backing of a host of non-Congress parties like the Samajwadi Party, Asom Gana Parishad and the Telugu Desam Party. It seemed the Left was determined to keep the “third front” spectre alive.

In Shillong, the Congress appeared to be in danger of losing its second government ' the first was Karnataka ' after dissidents ganged up against chief minister D.D. Lapang, threatened to move a no-confidence vote and sent feelers to Sangma to support them.

On the tax notices to the Bachchans, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said his party had nothing to do with them. But few in the party were convinced.

They acknowledged that whether by design or coincidence, the actions against the Bachchans ' starting with an earlier tax notice to Amitabh to Jaya’s disqualification from the Rajya Sabha and the latest call from the IT sleuths ' were linked to the souring of their relations with the Gandhis.

About the Andhra stir, a functionary said:“If we acted tough on the petrol issue, they cocked a snook at us in Andhra. Their leaders are determined to keep alive the illusion of a third front to keep us on our toes.”

However, another “problem” appeared to have been solved after the NCP, the Congress’s partner in government in Maharashtra, denied differences between them on reducing sales tax on petrol and diesel.

NCP leader R.R. Patil said his party is in favour of reducing the tax. The deputy chief minister’s announcement came after reports that the NCP is against the reduction as it would tell on the state’s revenue and had accused the Congress of “playing to the gallery”.

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