Monday, October 30, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Jitendra dares Sonia Gandhi
Scuffles after filing of papers
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 29—The former UPCC chief, Mr Jitendra Prasada, today filed his nomination papers for the post of Congress President to face the present incumbent, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, which is perhaps the first challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi family for the party’s top post.

Mr Prasada filed his nomination papers for the November 12 poll amid a scuffle between party workers. Soon after Mr Prasada filed five sets of nomination papers, there were scuffles between his supporters and Sonia loyalists amid vociferous slogans and counter-slogans. The police had a tough time separating the two groups even as leaders like Ajit Jogi and Renuka Chowdhary tried to pacify the situation.

While Mrs Gandhi would have to face election for her second term, this would be perhaps the fourth such contest for the top post in the more than a century- old Congress party.

While political commentators viewed Mr Prasada’s nomination as a “symbolic challenge”, Sonia loyalists said the “real issue” behind the former UPCC chief’s candidature was his “personal ambition.”

Talking to The Tribune after filing his nomination papers, Mr Prasada said, “I am only contesting the poll and not challenging the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. It is a contest between a worker and a leader.”

“I have no alternative but to continue to fight on issues till its logical conclusion sincerely with the support of all those who are concerned about the future of the Congress,” Mr Prasada said.

Stating that his decision to contest the election was a tribute to late party leaders Sitaram Kesri and Rajesh Pilot, who strove for inner party democracy and for honouring the wishes of the party workers, Mr Prasada said ,“I can assure everyone that I will not be failing in my duty to the party. This is the only way to revitalise the Congress to regain its lost clan.”

Veteran political commentator, Mr Pran Chopra, talking to The Tribune expressed doubts on whether Mr Prasada was serious about challenging the incumbent president of the sycophancy-ridden party.

“This is a symbolic challenge and not a serious one,” he said. Expressing fears that Mr Prasada may be marginalised in the near future, Mr Chopra said, “Congress culture has not accepted people who challenge an incumbent president. Only on a few occasions such a challenge had succeeded.”

“If Mr Prasada was serious about challenging Mrs Gandhi, he should have campaigned about it among Congress workers as Rajesh Pilot did for sometime earlier ,” Mr Chopra observed.

The former UPCC chief is not very well known outside the ambit of Congress political circles in Uttar Pradesh, he said, adding that “if Mr Prasada receives the support of about 50 per cent of the delegates from the Hindi belt, then he could be described as a serious challenger in the future.”

“However, if he fails to garner much support in the Hindi belt too, then he will end up strengthening the hands of Mrs Gandhi instead of challenging her,” Mr Chopra observed.

Congress leaders who supported Mr Prasada’s candidature included three party MPs from Uttar Pradesh— Khan Gufran Zahidi, Begum Noor Bano and Sujan Singh Bundela.

Other prominent supporters were former MPs Manvendra Singh, Ram Ratan Ram, Venod Sharma and Pinaki Mishra.

The Chairman of the party’s Central Election Authority (CEA), Mr Ram Niwas Mirdha, said as many as 87 nominations— 82 in favour of Mrs Gandhi and five for Mr Prasada—had been filed.

While two nominations filed in favour of Mr Prasada were from Uttar Pradesh, three were jointly from UP, Bihar, Chandigarh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Jharkhand.

Reacting to Mr Prasada’s candidature, an AICC spokesman and a known Sonia loyalist, Mr Ajit Jogi, said that it showed that there was inner party democracy in the Congress.

Echoing similar feelings, a former UPCC president Mr Salman Khursheed, said he personally felt that the “real issue” behind Mr Prasada’s candidature was his “personal ambition.” He wanted party workers to ignore “these little ripples in a tea cup.”

“Democracy in the Congress has matured and that is why it is possible for someone to contest against a leader like Mrs Gandhi who is above elections,” he said, adding, “Nevertheless somebody can claim an opportunity to contest against her is proof of the democracy that they claim is missing.”

The CEA Chairman reacted with a terse “no comment” when asked about Mr Prasada’s criticism about conducting the party poll by the authority.

The former UPCC chief had stated that he had received “thousands of complaints” about the way the poll was being conducted.

Mr Prasada ,in a letter to party men earlier this month, had asked them to introspect on the state of the organisation in view of the fact that it had been dislodged from power at the Centre and in several states and was in a “dismal” situation in a large number of states, including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal.

In the letter, in which Mr Prasada had dwelt on several issues, he had said, “Let us face facts, even if these are uncomfortable. Of late, our electoral base has shrunk, our influence has narrowed, and our intellectual resources have diminished. The Congress has lost centrestage in national politics.”

More than 8,500 PCC delegates from 34 states and union territories would be participating the election for Congress President scheduled for November 12. Scrutiny would be held tomorrow, the last date for withdrawal is November 5 and counting of votes, if elections were held, would be on November 15 at the AICC headquarters.

GONDA (UNI): All 17 Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee members from this district will support Mrs Sonia Gandhi for the post of party president. This was decided at an emergency meeting convened here on Sunday.Back

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