Antagarh bypoll: Infighting in Congress comes to fore

The surprise move by Congress candidate to withdraw nomination from the September 13 bye-election to Chhattisgarh's insurgency-hit Antagarh Assembly seat has brought to fore infighting in the party.

Raipur: The surprise move by Congress candidate to withdraw nomination from the September 13 bye-election to Chhattisgarh's insurgency-hit Antagarh Assembly seat has brought to fore infighting in the party.

Some senior Congress leaders have been pointing fingers at each other for choosing tribal leader Manturam Pawar as the candidate, who had lost this tribal reserved seat in Kanker district under North Bastar division which came into existence in 2008 after delimitation, twice at the hands of former Forest Minister Vikram Usendi.

In last year's Assembly election, Usendi had defeated Pawar by 5,171 votes.

Antagarh seat has been vacant since Usendi, the sitting BJP MLA, resigned from there after winning the recent Lok Sabha election from the Kanker seat.

With the declaration of the by-poll schedule, Congress, which has been struggling after facing a humiliating defeat in both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the state, hurriedly re-declared Pawar as its candidate allegedly without taking his consent, in anticipation of a good show.

Pawar, who went missing after withdrawing his nomination papers on August 29, appeared yesterday at a press conference here in a hotel and claimed that he never wanted to contest the Antagarh by-poll.

"I never wanted to contest this bypoll. I requested the party high command several times but they didn't listen to me and I was forced to enter into the fray," alleged Pawar, who was expelled from the party following his decision to quit the by-election.

Pawar is considered a close aide of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, but he had also opposed his candidature citing his previous performances in the Assembly polls.

"I wonder why Pawar was chosen as candidate despite his unwillingness to enter into fray this time. Neither I was asked for a suggestion nor the senior party leader and AICC treasurer Motilal Vora, while choosing him," Jogi said.

Refuting Pawar's allegation, Congress state unit chief Bhupesh Baghel said, "The allegations levelled by Pawar are baseless. It is nothing but only a bunch of lies."

Congress always takes step after consulting its senior party leaders, he said.

On Pawar's decision, Baghel said, "He has insulted the party and emotions of the party workers, therefore he was immediately sacked. However, the conspiracy behind this move will soon be exposed."

Smelling conspiracy allegedly by BJP behind the move, Baghel said the ruling party feared defeat in the bye-elections in different states.

"For Antagarh bypoll, ten nominees have withdrawn their nominations and now only two contestants are left. BJP has engineered the situation to elect its candidate unopposed fearing debacle at the hands of Congress," Baghel alleged.

However, political observers believe that Baghel, who played a lead role in nominating Pawar for the by-poll, was allegedly trying to impress a key Jogi supporter by giving him election ticket, thereby consolidating his position within the organisation.

Meanwhile, BJP denied its hand in the development as alleged by Congress, saying the Opposition has failed to control internal differences and was levelling fake charges.

BJP candidate Bhojraj Naag was already in a winning position from Antagarh. There is no question of any kind foul play. Firstly, Congress should resolve disputes within its organisation and then should think of pointing fingers on others, state Higher Education Minister and party in-charge of Antagarh by-poll Prem Prakash Pandey said.

The by-election result will be declared on September 16.  

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