Tuesday, March 4, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Advantage Virbhadra
Stokes meets Sonia; CLP leader today
Rakesh Lohumi and Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

Shimla/ New Delhi, March 3
While Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Congress President, will have the final word on the chief ministerial candidate, hectic activity is on in the camps headed by Mr Virbhadra Singh and Mrs Vidya Stokes to muster support of the newly elected legislators to defeat the rival in the number game.

Both Mr Virbhadra Singh and Mrs Stokes have been maintaining that they would abide by the decision of the high command on the leadership issue but they are working overtime to convince the high command about the genuineness of their respective claims. While Mrs Stokes went to New Delhi along with her flock to meet the Central leaders, Mr Virbhadra Singh stayed put at his residence Holly Lodge, here, with 25 supporters.

The Virbhadra Singh camp claimed the support of more than of 25, besides four Independents, and appeared confident of winning the leadership battle. Mr Virbhadra Singh said he had the overwhelming support of the MLAs but he would abide by the decision of the high command. He also expressed confidence that the issue would be decided in the best interests of the party.

In Delhi loyalists of Mrs Stokes strove hard to persuade the Congress high-command to decide in favour of their leader as the Chief Ministerial choice, but at the end of the day it still seemed advantage Virbhadra Singh.

Three senior Congress leaders — Mohsina Kidwai, Motilal Vora and R.K. Dhawan — are leaving for Shimla tonight to attend the Congress Legislature Party meeting as Central observers. Congress spokesman Anand Sharma will also be in Shimla tomorrow.

Not able to get any firm assurance from the high command, supporters of Mrs Stokes, however, have made up their mind to move a one-line resolution at the CLP meeting authorising party President Sonia Gandhi to decide the leadership issue. Such a resolution had been adopted by the state leaders at the time of distribution of tickets.

While Mrs Stokes met Mrs Gandhi in the morning, nearly 10 MLAs met the Congress President in the evening. The MLAs also met Mrs Kidwai in the afternoon. The supporters of Ms Stokes are claiming support of 18 MLAs. While some MLAs said later that they had given their mind on the leadership issue to the high command and would abide by the decision of the Congress President, a few said that their visit to the Capital was only to greet the senior leaders on the party’s victory in the state.

AICC sources said that some MLAs also urged the high command to consider the option of a third choice. The issue of giving due to the lower regions of the state and the cases being faced by Mr Singh was also raised.

The sources said while the high command leaders had taken note of the “complaints’’ of some MLAs against Mr Singh, they were likely to be guided by the majority factor in deciding the leadership. A CWC member said here that the Central leaders were going to Shimla with “an open mind’’ and the leadership issue will be decided after talking to the MLAs.

Besides Mrs Stokes, the MLAs who were in the Capital today included Mr Harbhajan Singh Bhajji, Mr G.S. Bali, Mr V.S. Mankotia, Mr Harsh Mahajan, Mr Surinder Bhardwaj, Mr Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, Mr Rajkishan Gaur, Mr Rakesh Kalia and Mr Lajja Ram.

Addressing a press conference here, Congress spokesman Kuldeep Singh Rathor, however, claimed that the election of the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) would be a smooth affair and irrespective of the choice of the leader, all the legislators and party workers would remain united.

Replying to a question, he ruled out the possibility of any break up in the party after the election of the CLP leader. “The preference of the MLAs and the decision of the high command would be acceptable to all leaders and workers in the party.” Mr Rathod said a meeting of the party legislators would be held at 4 pm at the Vidhan Sabha tomorrow to deliberate over the election of the CLP leader. “Their viewpoint would be conveyed to the party high command in Delhi which would then take the final decision.’’


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