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Congress’ uneasy CMs: A ‘slow mover’, a usual survivor and a target of a ceaseless rebellion

Amid indications of the Congress moving to replace three CMs, a look at the troubles they face at home

Written by MUKESH BHARDWAJ , Samudra Gupta Kashyap , Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai/ Chandigrah/ Guwhati | Updated: June 23, 2014 11:51:47 am
There is an intense speculation about a change of leadership in Congress-ruled states. There is an intense speculation about a change of leadership in Congress-ruled states.

Amid indications of the Congress moving to replace three CMs, a look at the troubles they face at home

PRITHVIRAJ CHAVAN | Term ends this year

Lok Sabha seats: Cong-NCP 6/48 (-19)

Assembly segments led: Cong-NCP 42/288 (-102)

Party and ally count decisions he didn’t take



The push to replace Prithviraj Chavan as Maharashtra CM comes amid pressure from the NCP and dissent within the Congress, centred around a perceived reluctance to take decisions. The dithering by the high command, on the other hand, is centred around the absence of a suitable replacement.

The NCP leadership and over half the Congress MLAs are said to have sought a change of guard since the thrashing in the Lok Sabha polls and ahead of the assembly polls. Their ground, as a minister tells The Indian Express, is that “Chavan is not a team player but a solo performer”.

“What will we show the people when projects are stuck in files?” says Congress MLA Baba Siddique. Chavan holds the urban development portfolio, and projects stuck include an extension of the Sea Link to Nariman Point, a coastal road, a waterway from Borivali to Nariman Point, and regularisation of structures in Mumbai and Pune. At an NCP meeting on June 9, Sharad Pawar shortlisted Maratha reservation, abolition of local body tax and backward status to Dhangars.

An NCP minister points out that the state’s infrastructure committee hasn’t met for two years, while MLA Nawab Malik sums up Chavan’s style with an example: “For a single dispute over shifting of a car shed, the entire Metro-2 project has not moved forward in four years.”

Chavan himself says: “Often there are issues that relate to clearance from the Centre, which stall the progress of any project.” He has been camping in Delhi for three days.

For all the grumbles, however, an AICC functionary admits, “Frankly speaking, we have been unable to take a decision. If we drop Chavan, the only option is Sushil Kumar Shinde, a former CM and a Dalit face, which would send out a strong message.” But Shinde, 73 lost in Solapur. “Elevating him will mean a disconnect with young voters,” says a leader. Of other possibilities, few expect Narayan Rane, Balasaheb Thorat or Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil to work magic in months.

It was amid such indecision that Congress leaders A K Antony and Ahmed Patel met Pawar last week to discuss the polls. “Antony will be in the state on June 28  to discuss the polls,” says PCC chief Manikrao Thakre.

“The unease in the Congress and the NCP reflects the failure of the government in addressing issues relating to the people,” says BJP state chief Devendra Fadnavis.

BHUPINDER SINGH HOODA | Term ends this year

Lok Sabha seats: Cong 1/10 (-8)
Assembly segments led: Cong 24/90 (-16)

Under fire, but with few credible challengers

Bhupinder Singh Hooda

For a chief minister supposedly in the firing line, Bhupinder Singh Hooda appears confident. This is partly because the Haryana CM has a reputation for survival and largely because the Congress doesn’t seem to have too many choices to replace him either.

Reduced to a minority with 40 of 90 assembly seats five years ago, Hooda had secured the numbers to form the government with the support of 47 MLAs. Over the next five years, he has been targeted from within the party and by the opposition over the Robert Vadra land deals, atrocities on Dalits, honour killings and disproportionate spending with his home district Rohtak getting the bulk of funds.

Through all that, he has enjoyed the confidence of Sonia Gandhi, whom he has met again following talk about his removal, the demands having peaked since the Congress lost in nine of the state’s 10 Lok Sabha seats. But with the debacle having engulfed his detractors too, a confident Hooda has said he is staying as long as he enjoys Sonia’s blessings

Kumari Selja, one of Hooda’s main opponents, did not even contest and is said to be not keen on taking over, having been sent to the Rajya Sabha. Birender Singh’s stock is down after Lok Sabha candidate Sampat Singh, besides losing his deposit, surrendered the lead in Uchana Kalan, the assembly segment that is home to Birender. Savitri Jindal too saw her assembly segment vote against the Congress while her son Naveen lost, as did Ashok Tanwar.

The one contender for Hooda’s chair who did have a performance to show is minister Randeep Singh Surjewala, national Congress spokesman, in whose assembly segment the Congress led by 13,331 votes, but what goes against him is that he does not enjoy the confidence of those who want Hooda replaced. Besides, the only Congress MP, Hooda’s son Deepender, did lead in his father’s assembly segment of Kiloi.

TARUN GOGOI | Term ends 2016

Lok Sabha seats: Cong 3/14 (-4)
Assembly segments led: Cong 24/126 (-55)

All the pressure from ambitious former aide

Tarun Gogoi

Four weeks ago, he stopped short of calling Tarun Gogoi apadartha, or worthless. “Is he an apadartha?” Himanta Biswa Sarma asked live, on almost all Guwahati-based news channels. In February 2013, he had called Gogoi astamita yatrar lok, or one heading towards sunset.

Sarma, health and education minister and seen as number two in Gogoi’s government in Assam, was once his most trusted lieutenant but is now leading the clamour for his ouster. He is by no means the Congress’s only option to replace Gogoi but his ambitions have always been clear. He first began dreaming of becoming CM in 2010 when Gogoi underwent a cardiac surgery in Mumbai. When Gogoi did not fade as some predicted, Sarma continued to back him until one day he declared on social media that he has a dream of becoming CM. And since 2012, when Gogoi launched his son Garuav, the Congress Legislature Party has been divided into two.

Sarma’s camp says it has 46 MLAs, who often appear together live on local channels, one of these owned by Sarma’s wife. He has also started giving dates for Gogoi’s removal, though at least two of these have passed.

This March, Sarma had told The Indian Express, “Let the results be out, and I will ensure that this man (Gogoi) is ousted.” When the Congress did fare poorly, Sarma was the first to raise his voice, among 46 of the party’s 79 legislators demanding a change in leadership. On May 26, as one minister announced Sarma would be CM, Sarma said, “You (Gogoi) can neither keep me in your cabinet, nor afford to drop me.”

Sarma called Gogoi apadartha after minister Rakibul Hussain, a Gogoi loyalist, had reminded Sarma about a terror case Sarma once had against him. The case, apparently closed, dates back to the 1990s when Sarma was arrested for alleged extortion on behalf of the ULFA. “If he (Gogoi) is really an efficient home minister, let him show some courage by pointing out if there is a TADA case pending,” Sarma said.

Sarma’s website shows his ambition. It begins with Robert Frost’s verses “…promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep”, introduces him as an “idealist” and “practitioner”, and describes his vision of Assam as a state with all human development indices as envisaged by the UN and as implemented by the UPA under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi.

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