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Rahul Gandhi calls urgent meeting with Madhya Pradesh Congress leaders as infighting continues ahead of Assembly polls

Before taking the 15-year BJP government in Madhya Pradesh head on in the Assembly election scheduled later this year, the Congress first needs to get its house in order. Before the party gets into campaign mode, it needs to put an end to infighting and factionalism.

Congress leader Deepak Babaria. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Congress leader Deepak Babaria. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

The recent incident where Congress Madhya Pradesh in-charge Deepak Babaria was roughed up in Rewa, allegedly by a section of party workers — said to be supporters of Congress leader Ajay Singh (popularly known as Rahul Bhaiyya) — has brought the indiscipline and factionalism within the Madhya Pradesh Congress out into the open.

Babaria was manhandled in Rewa allegedly by a group of Congress workers on 29 July. Responding to a question posed to him during a press conference in Rewa, on who would be the chief minister if Congress came to power, Babaria said it would be probably Jyotiraditya Scindia or Kamal Nath.

Sources said Babaria was asked if Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh — known to be influential in the state's Rewa-Satna-Sidhi region— was a likely chief ministerial probable. To this Babaria replied, “Whatever you understand”.  After the press conference, a group of Congress workers entered Babaria’s room at the Circuit House and allegedly roughed him up. He was rescued by another group of Congress workers from the Scindia and Kamal Nath factions.

“A few BJP followers under the garb of Congress workers raised the question at the press conference and later roughed up Babaria ji. The state BJP made it a political issue, as Home Minister Bhupesh Singh offered protection to Babaria ji. The BJP government in the state is unable to protect minors and rape incidents are increasing, what protection it can give to Congress leaders? We are capable of doing it ourselves,” Bhopal-based Congress spokesperson Ravi Saxena told Firstpost.

Realising the gravity of the situation, on Tuesday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi called an urgent meeting at his 12 Tughlak Lane residence in New Delhi and summoned Babaria, state president Kamal Nath and Scindia, the chairman of campaign committee.

Babaria's 'controversial' past

Babaria — who Rahul handpicked as campaign in-charge of Madhya Pradesh — has created controversy and hit the headlines. In February, Babaria suggested an age ceiling and application fee for candidates ahead of Assembly elections. His statement created a flutter and a group of Congress MLAs registered their protest with the party.

While addressing a meeting in Jabalpur, Babaria urged party leaders over the age of 60 to stay away from contesting Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh. He also said contestants seeking a ticket should pay an application fee, a non-refundable amount that would get deposited in the party fund and be utilised for the campaign.

Babaria’s alleged remarks against the Yadav community — after Arun Yadav was replaced by Kamal Nath as state president of Congress — led to protests from Congress members of the Yadav community and his effigy being burnt. “It’s not the first time that his comment has fuelled anger among party workers,” a Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity. “Babaria once said if the Congress came to power in Madhya Pradesh, the chief minister would be from ‘pichhda varg’ (backward community). Who is he to decide a chief ministerial candidate? It’s the job of Congress president.”

“He has little understanding of party’s dynamics and functioning in Madhya Pradesh and his statements have created a flutter within the party,” the leader added.

Factionalism within Madhya Pradesh Congress

Factionalism within the Madhya Pradesh Congress is nothing new and this has apparently helped Shivraj Singh and BJP remain in power for three straight terms. Former chief minister Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Scindia and Ajay Singh all have their areas of influence. After the end of a decade-long Congress rule under Digvijay in 2003, the party failed to pose a tough challenge to the BJP.

Congress high command is apparently unhappy and disturbed with the recent developments, where party leaders have made damaging comments and given contrary statements. Some time ago, former Member of Parliament Premchand Guddu questioned the functioning of the party, while working president Bala Bachchan criticised the state Congress leaders for their inability to counter Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s ongoing campaign rally ‘Jan Aashirwad Yatra’.

After taking over as Congress president, Rahul asked party leaders to bury any kind of factionalism and contest elections in poll-bound states. The central leadership initiated changes in the state’s organisational structure. Veteran leader and Chhindwara MP Kamal Nath and comparatively younger Guna MP Scindia have been given key responsibilities to boost party’s prospects.

While Congress’ chief ministerial nominee is yet to be finalised, uniting to contest the Assembly election remains a big challenge for Congress.


Updated Date: Jul 31, 2018 22:30 PM

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