The Congress will not project Chief Ministerial faces for the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, scheduled to be held towards the end of the year.
According to party functionaries, the Congress high command, worried over infighting within the state units and escalation of intra-party rivalry, has decided not to elevate any one leader as the Chief Ministerial candidate. This decision comes at a time when strong pressure is being exerted on the high command by leaders who are in the running for the Chief Minister’s post, to declare the names. According to people in the know, senior leaders in Madhya Pradesh have been told that the name of the CM will be decided on the basis of the wishes of the MLAs who win the elections in case the Congress comes to power.
“The practice of the victorious MLAs deciding their leader is beneficial for the party as then the regional satraps will put in all their efforts to make sure that their candidates win the maximum number of seats. This will help the party do well in the elections. Now both Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath, who are the two strongest claimants for the CM’s chair in MP, rather than indulging in infighting and factionalism, are focusing on making sure that the candidates and sitting MLAs of their respective regions do well so that when the time comes, they have the maximum support for themselves,” a Bhopal based party functionary said.
Digvijaya Singh, who according to party leaders, is neither overtly nor covertly trying for the CM’s chair, has been going around the state meeting leaders from different camps. “He has been asked to tackle factionalism as most of the party functionaries across the state still see him as their leader—many of them were brought into politics or given party posts when he was at the helm of affairs. His primary focus is his son Jaivardhan’s (who is an MLA) political future, which can be taken care of only if the party comes to power,” a Congress MLA said.
According to him, Singh might emerge as the dark horse in case the winning MLAs decide to back him. “There is always that possibility. However, Singh’s clout in Delhi is not the same anymore. So if Singh has to become the CM, he will need the support of the MLAs. He cannot bank on the blessings of the party high command,” the functionary said.
According to a Bhopal based Congress spokesperson, infighting is a problem, but not to the extent seen in 2014 or 2009. “Infighting to a large extent has been controlled. Every CM claimant is focusing on his region. Our primary goal is to touch the 116-mark (the majority mark in the 230-seat MP Assembly). Who the CM will be, will be decided after that,” the spokesman said.
Supporters of the present Leader of Opposition in the MP Assembly, Ajay Singh, son of the late Arjun Singh, feel that he has an outside chance to become the CM. However, no such signal has been given by the party high command. Recently, the party’s general secretary in charge of the state, Deepak Babaria, was manhandled by Congress workers in Rewa, the stronghold of Ajay Singh. The incident took place after Babaria, while responding to journalists’ questions, said that the CM would be either Kamal Nath or Scindia and not Ajay Singh.
In Chhattisgarh, party president Rahul Gandhi has told the trio of Bhupesh Baghel (Pradesh Congress Committee chief), T.S. Singh Deo (Leader of Opposition) and Charan Das Mahant (former Union Minister and MP from Korba), who were all claimants to the CM post, that the CM would be decided on the basis of the wishes of the newly elected MLAs.
“The senior leaders have been asked to make sure that no reports of factionalism reach the party high command. Even ticket distribution is being done methodically and all the names will be decided by Rahul Gandhi himself after going through the reports prepared by the state functionaries and independent surveys. Earlier, the regional satraps were given a quota of ticket which they used to distribute to their loyalists. If ticket distribution is done fairly, we are going to win no less than 60 seats as there is a massive anti-incumbency against the Raman Singh government,” claimed a party leader who is seeking a ticket from the Bastar region.
According to Congress leaders, Tamradhwaj Sahu, MP from Durg and president of All India Congress Committee’s OBC wing, is likely to emerge as the strongest leader for the post of CM if the Congress wins in the state, as he does not owe any allegiance to any regional leader and has good relations with eevryone. He also comes from the Sahu community, which is numerically strong in the state. Sahu was recently included in the Congress Working Committee.
In Rajasthan, where election pundits say that there is a strong possibility of Congress coming back to power, the infighting is more pronounced, with supporters of both Ashok Gehlot, who is now the national general secretary, and those of Sachin Pilot, who is the state party president, slugging it out openly to get their respective leaders named as the CM candidate. Despite immense pressure from the lobbies representing these two leaders, Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that there will be no CM face and the new MLAs will elect their leader.
“Gehlot is keen to become CM again. He told journalists that what the need was for a new face when he was still there. Pilot too is clear that he should lead the new government when the results come out. Due to this infighting, the mass contact programme, Mera Booth, Mera Gaurav (MBMG) has been shelved. Avinash Pandey (secretary in charge) too has recommended that a CM face should not be announced as that will lead to further infighting. This is a golden chance for us to defeat the BJP and Rahul Gandhi realises that. How things will go from here depends on Gehlot and Pilot,” a Jaipur based party functionary said.
The general consensus among the state leaders is that Pilot will be ultimately appointed the CM as Gehlot is already serving at a very crucial post in the party.
Gehlot, though, has continued to stake his claim. Recently, while speaking to the media in Udaipur, he said that rumour was being floated that he had shifted his base to Delhi, but the truth was that he was not going to leave Rajasthan, ever. Earlier, one of Gehlot’s closest confidants, former Union Minister Lalchand Kataria, told the local media that Gehlot should be declared as Congress’ CM candidate.