CONGRESS THROWS OUT GANG OF THREE
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New Delhi, May 20 : The Congress Working Committee (CWC) tonight expelled Sonia-challengers Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar from the primary membership of the party for six years by a majority vote, setting the stage for a split. Leader of the rebel trio Sharad Pawar, who has been hardening his stand against Sonia Gandhi over the past few days, is now likely to float a regional party in Maharashtra. He is scheduled to return to Delhi shortly and could initiate talks with the Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam and the Trinamul Congress for an electoral alliance. The CWC decision was not unanimous with senior leader A.K. Antony registering a note of dissent. Harping on the theme of unity, he objected on procedural grounds, saying the party should first slap a showcause on the dissidents and suspend them before taking any extreme step. ??Let us first suspend them. Give them a chance to explain their conduct,?? Antony said. But he was overruled by other CWC members, especially hawks like Arjun Singh, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and Pranab Mukherjee, who chaired the meet. Sitaram Kesri, Rajesh Pilot, Jitendra Prasada and Ahmad Patel also favoured a ??step-by-step?? approach to deal with the rebels. But they abided by the majority view in keeping with the mood of party workers who wanted stringent action. The CWC decision was immediately conveyed to Sonia Gandhi by AICC general secretary Oscar Fernandes. But she remained unmoved. The decision will have to be ratified by the AICC session, the date and venue for which are yet to be finalised. Some leaders feel that if Sonia Gandhi does not relent, the AICC should pressure her to rescind her resignation. The CWC meeting was preceded by dramatic scenes at the Congress headquarters where Kesri was manhandled by an agitated crowd. His car was damaged and the veteran leader had to return home to change his torn kurta, cap and dhoti. Kesri, who is a special invitee to the CWC, was targeted because of his proximity to Anwar. Prasada and Pilot were also roughed up over their alleged sympathy for the dissident troika. At night, Sonia Gandhi apologised to Kesri on behalf of the party workers. She again instructed Congress general secretaries to restrain supporters. The CWC met several times during the day before its formal gathering to iron out differences on how to tackle the rebels. Antony, Ahmad and Pilot argued that the party should follow procedure as laid down in the party constitution. Mukherjee, Reddy and Arjun Singh countered that the CWC had powers to waive these rules. ??It is in keeping with the party constitution and precedents of 1977 and 1986,?? Mukherjee said. Justifying the expulsions, he said Pawar, Sangma and Anwar had violated party discipline by not abiding by the majority decision of Sunday?s CWC meeting which rejected their demand. The trio wanted the election manifesto to include a clause that the party will bring in a constitutional amendment to bar Indians of foreign origin from occupying high office. Mukherjee said the issue had no political logic. ??Who should be the Prime Minister is an issue which should be decided by the voters who elect the MPs,?? he added. The CWC members alleged the rebels had deliberately taken up an issue which was raked up by the BJP. ??They have joined hands with the communal and fascist forces,?? they said. The Congress feels the expulsion of the three leaders will have an impact in Maharashtra. ??We may lose some seats but Pawar will also be finished without the Congress? organisational set-up,?? an AICC general secretary said.