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HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Bhopal, October 02, 2012
The state unit of the Congress has an ambitious plan to gherao the chief minister's residence on October 4 to protest against and put the spotlight on the issue of corruption in general and coal block allocations to Reliance Power in specific. The sound and fury over these issues, however, doesn't take into account a minor fact: Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, whose house is to be gherao-ed, is in fact out of the country and will return on October 8.

The Congress leaders, however, put up a brave front when asked what exactly would be the impact and import of "gherao-ing" a 'CM-less' CM house. State Congress media in-charge Manak Agrawal said: "Presence of the chief minister doesn't matter in such matters. It's a symbolic protest. We wish to communicate a massage to the people. The chief minister would not have come out of his residence even if he were in Bhopal."

The protest was earlier planned for September 20 but was deferred following the visit of the Sri Lankan president and the Bhutanese prime minister on the occasion of the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the International Buddhist University at Sanchi.

The Congress alleges that Chouhan always "runs away" whenever such a demonstration is planned by the Opposition. Abhay Dubey, state Congress spokesperson, told HT, "He should have stayed back in Bhopal, but he doesn't do it. Last time when we organised a gherao, he had run away to Gwalior. We can't tie him in his house. He can go anywhere he wishes anytime but protest at the chief minister's residence would serve its purpose even in his absence."

When asked why the Congress did not choose a different date as the chief minister's trip to the US to address a meeting of the World Bank was known well in advance, he said: "Believe me, he would have gone somewhere else if he was present in Bhopal." However, a former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) office-bearer said on the condition of anonymity, "They are gheraoing a house and not the chief minister as proposed. To the common man it betrays unwillingness of the Congress leadership to take on the ruling party in right earnest."

Political observers feel that the Congress has tied itself in knots over the issue - firstly, state Congress president Kantilal Bhuria and his team were not fully aware of Chouhan's programme and secondly, when they came to know of it, they had already put things in motion, including telling their district chiefs to ferry large crowds to the venue.