'Spent force' Dalit leader quits Cong

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Delhi
  • Published 10.11.08
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New Delhi, Nov. 10: Margaret Alva’s outburst against the Congress’s ticket dispensers is not the only source of disquiet in the party as it prepares for elections in six states.

Yogendra Makwana, a Dalit veteran from Gujarat, is quitting the Congress this week to float the National Bahujan Congress Party.

The head of the Congress’s Scheduled Castes cell and a minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, Makwana, like Alva, is regarded as a “spent force” by some of Sonia Gandhi’s colleagues.

“However, his departure at this juncture might send a negative signal to Dalits in the election-bound states, especially if Mayavati uses such instances to project the Congress as anti-Dalit and anti-tribal,” a general secretary said.

A source close to Makwana said he would announce his exit at a news conference in Delhi and not Gandhinagar, so that he can make his point “nationally”.

The Congress has lost a tribal representative, Dilip Singh Bhuria, to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.

Bhuria, a Congress member since 1972, had joined the BJP during the Ram temple agitation but returned to the Congress when it wrested power at the Centre in 2004. A couple of weeks ago, he rejoined the BJP, calling Congress leaders a clutch of “feudal landlords” who “stifled” Dalits and tribals.

In Karnataka, septuagenarian C.K. Jaffer Sharief is sulking. Sources said Sharief, who had been mollified with the promise of a Rajya Sabha seat or some similar “compensation” when he threatened to quit before the state elections, got nothing.

The sources said that after Alva’s “rebellion”, Sharief too had begun wondering if he had a future in the Congress.

As did Aslam Sher Khan of Madhya Pradesh. The former hockey star, who was the Congress’s Muslim poster boy after Arif Mohammed Khan fell out of grace, was willing to settle for an Assembly ticket from Bhopal. He didn’t get one.

Sources conceded that such hard-luck stories, when seen in a larger perspective, meant only one thing. Come December 8 — a day before Sonia turns 62 and when nearly all the Assembly election results will be out — the Congress may face a repeat of 1998 when it saw an exodus from its ranks before the general election. However, that will happen if the party suffers reverses in the state polls.

Even before the tickets have been distributed, Congress leaders have started doing their poll calculations.

“If we retain Delhi and gain Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram and lose Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, it’s still great. It will be 4:2. But if we only win the three smaller states (Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram) and lose the big ones, it’s bad news,” a minister said.

In 1998, the Congress defectors had gravitated towards the BJP, then perceived as the sunrise party.