Cong struggles to find Uttarakhand CM



New Delhi/Dehradun: Amid intense pulls and pressures, the Congress high command tonight struggled to choose the next Chief Minister of Uttarakhand amid indications the leader would be an MLA, ruling out the possibility of MPs inluding Union Minister Harish Rawat.

The party's central observers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Chauhdary Birender Singh, who elicited the views of the party's 32 legislators as also 2 independent MLAs in Dehradun on the leadership issue, submitted their report to party chief Sonia Gandhi this evening.

Leader of the opposition Harak Singh Rawat, PCC chief Yashpal Arya and Indira Hirdesh (all MLAs) are among the top contenders for the CM's post.

Sources said over a dozen MLAs supporting Harish Rawat for the top job have arrived in the national capital to express their solidarity with him. Party MP Vijaya Bahuguna's name was also doing the round earlier.

What has complicated Congress' task of choosing the CLP leader is conflicting choices of the three independents whose support is crucial for the party's formation of the government.

In the 70-member House, Congress emerged as the single largest party with 32 MLAs - four short of majority--and it needs support of three Independents and one MLA from Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (P) to reach the magic figure of 36.

While independent MLA Dinesh Dhanai has openly rooted for Bahuguna as CM, Mantri Prasad Naithani is on record as backing Satpal Maharaj while Durgapal, another independent, is backing Hirdesh.

The old Thakur-Brahmin rivalry in the state leadership is another trouble, which could brighten the chance of PCC chief Yashpal Arya, a Dalit face. A section of Congress leaders is rooting for him saying it will send a good signal, while others feel it could benefit BJP in the long run.

Though the party ruled out veteran Congress leader N D Tewari as among probables, the former Chief Minister's opinion does matter. There is also a talk in the party about experimenting with a woman for the top job.

Azad and Chaudhary earlier held separate talks with each of the party's 32 newly-elected MLAs as well as Naithani and Dhanai--both Congress rebels--as well as the lone UKD legislator Pritam Singh Panwar.

Harish Durgapal, an independent and another Congress rebel from Lal Kuan, was not present due to marriage of his son in Kumaon region.

"We held discussions with the newly-elected MLAs. Now, we will brief party President Sonia Gandhi on the views of these MLAs", said Azad in Dehradoon adding the new leader would be choosen in a day or two.

PTI