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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

Get seats for party or lose your chair, Congress tells its CMs

Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 14, 2014
First Published: 00:39 IST(14/4/2014) | Last Updated: 16:50 IST(14/4/2014)

In a tough poll battle, the Congress has put its chief ministers on notice — get the Lok Sabha numbers or be prepared to be replaced.

The Congress is in power in 11 states that together account for 151 Lok Sabha seats and a junior partner in ruling coalitions in three others. Main rival the BJP is at the helm in five states and partners the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab.

“The message was conveyed last month. Rival groups in many states are gunning for the chief ministers,” a senior party leader told HT on condition of anonymity. “The CMs were told that much depends on the party performance in polls and hence, they need to pull up their socks.”

May 16, when votes will be counted at the end of nine phases of polling for 543 Lok Sabha seats, is particularly important for Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Karnataka’s Siddaramaiah, Kerala’s Oommen Chandy, Haryana’s Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Uttarakhand’s Harish Rawat and Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh.

State delegations had been flocking to Delhi regularly, meeting the party brass and even demanding the removal of CMs in some cases.

With polls drawing close, the leadership, however, decided against a shake-up. Vijay Bahuguna in Uttarakhand was the only exception as the infighting in the hill state was reaching “dangerous levels”, threatening Lok Sabha prospects.

Siddaramaiah has so far maintained that the Congress would win at least 20 of the 28 seats in Karnataka. His confidence perhaps stems from the last year’s assembly elections when the Congress decimated the BJP, winning 122 of the total 224 seats. 

But that was 10 months ago. Former CM BS Yeddyurappa, forced out of the BJP on charges of corruption, is back in the saffron party. Having considerable influence over the 16% powerful upper-caste Lingayat community, his Karnataka Janatha Party secured a vote share of 10% in the assembly elections, denying the BJP a second successive term in office in the only southern state it ever ruled.

Chavan, too, has his work cut out in Maharashtra that has 48 seats. In power since 1999, the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) coalition is up against stiff anti-incumbency. He has to ensure that the party, at least, doesn’t slip beyond 17 seats -- its 2009 tally.

Riding on the “Modi wave”, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine is working overtime. The Congress is hoping that Maharashtra Navnirman Sena plays the spoilsport again. In 2009, it spilt the opposition’s votes and helped the Congress win all six Mumbai seats. An adverse outcome in Kerala could mean trouble for Chandy, who has had a tough last few months.

The pressure has mounted with the induction of archrival Ramesh Chennithala, a former state unit chief, as his home minister. He would take complete responsibility if the Congress doesn’t do well, Chandy has said. Defence minister AK Antony quit as the Kerala CM after the Congress-led UDF’s defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

In the north, Hooda has to go back to the voters in October and can’t afford a poor showing in national elections. Virbhadra Singh, who virtually rebelled against the high command to be sent back to Himachal ahead of the 2012 state elections that the party won, would need something to show for himself.

In neighbouring Uttarakhand, Rawat could get a reprieve as he was named CM barely days ahead of the elections.


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