NEW DELHI: A day after the Congress wrested the Hindi heartland from the BJP by pocketing the big states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, alliance making appeared far easier than identifying their new chief ministers.
In Madhya Pradesh, when the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 114 seats, two short of a simple majority, the BSP (2) and the SP (1) promptly extended support as did a few independents.
It gave the grand old party the first shot at chief ministership and foreclosed the possibility of the BJP doing a Goa-like coup. In Rajasthan too, a clutch of independents offered support.
But the leadership question remained open-ended. While the Congress team led by AICC observer K C Venugopal flying in to Jaipur had made up their mind to instal party general secretary Ashok Gehlot as the chief minister and go through the motions upon landing, they were surprised to find a totally different mood on the ground.
For the record, the Congress Legislature Party meeting adopted a resolution authorising party president Rahul Gandhi to name the chief minister. But during individual interactions with party MLAs as also the allies later in the day, the observers found a groundswell of support for state unit chief Sachin Pilot getting the top job, according to highly placed sources.
Pilot dug in his heels, saying he had slogged it out for the past four-and-a-half years in the state to create a positive atmosphere for the party. Gehlot could not be allowed to parachute in at the last moment and grab the crown, he argued.
With the wisdom in Delhi not tallying with that in Jaipur, the observers returned to the Capital and got into a huddle with party veteran Ahmed Patel. The game was wide open at the time of going to Press.
After a late night meeting, Pilot told reporters that the process of getting the feedback was almost over and the party high command would take the final decision on Thursday.
In Madhya Pradesh, Congress state unit president Kamal Nath led a delegation to meet Governor Anandiben Patel at Raj Bhawan to stake his party’s claim to form the new government.
In the evening, at the Congress Legislature Party meeting in Bhopal, top leaders like Kamal Nath, campaign committee chief Jyotiraditya Scindia, former chief minister Digvijaya Singh and Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha were present. Four independent MLAs – all Congress rebels also participated.
Two AICC observers, former Union ministers A K Antony and Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, who were deputed for the meeting, were expected to formalise the choice of Kamal Nath as the new CM. But sources said Scindia refused to yield. The ball is back in Rahul’s court.
Meanwhile, there was a buzz on Rahul using the party’s internal messaging platform Shakti for workers to send out a pre-recorded audio message seeking their feedback for selection of the chief minister in their respective states.
Crowd sourcing of opinion from within the organisation to settle the leadership question would be a first for any party in India.
In Rajasthan, a Congress delegation met Governor Kalyan Singh to stake its claim to form the government.
“A party delegation met the Governor. We have majority and will form the government,” AICC general secterary Avinash Pande told journalists.
“Several other MLAs have also extended support in writing. The final list will be handed over to the Governor later,” he added.
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In Chhattisgarh, veteran party leader and the sole Congress Lok Sabha OBC member from Durg constituency Tamradhwaj Sahu is reportedly on top of the list.
In Mizoram, where Mizo National Front has trounced Congress to wrest power, party president Zoramthanga would be sworn in as the chief minister on Saturday.