Greener pasture: why Ambika Soni wants to leave Uttarakhand for Punjab
Ambika Soni has offered to quit as the Congress in-charge of Uttarakhand so as to stay as chief of the campaign committee in Punjab. Sources told Catch that the party's poll strategist Prashant Kishor had suggested removing Soni from her Punjab job since she was also overseeing the election campaign in Uttarakhand, which goes to polls at around the same time.
If the leadership agrees to relieve Soni of her duties in Uttarakhand, she would likely be replaced by Kamal Nath. Nath was earlier made in charge of Haryana and Punjab but had to give up Punjab after a controversy broke out over his alleged involvement in the 1984 riots.
Soni is not keen on continuing as Uttarakhand in-charge, not least because her stint has been fraught with challenges. Her critics say Soni has not been able to make peace between the party's warring factions in the state; it was under her watch that nine legislators rebelled against Chief Minister Harish Rawat early this year, giving the Centre an excuse to impose President's Rule.
Though the Rawat government was later restored by the Supreme Court, dissidence within the party's ranks hasn't subsided. Much of the blame for this state of affairs has been pinned on the 74-year-old general secretary. Indeed, the rebel faction, led by former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, has accused her of not keeping the Congress president and vice president in the loop about the growing differences in the state unit.
Making matters worse for Soni, Bhimlal Arya, the former BJP legislator who had voted for Rawat during the floor test, has revolted against the chief minister. Arya has been protesting outside the chief minister's residence, only to see Rawat avoiding him despite using the same gate to enter his residence.
Disappointed with Rawat's "political actions", Arya resigned as chairman of the Infrastructure and Industrial Development Council, a post allotted to him after he was disqualified from the assembly. He has said the development of his constituency was being neglected and blamed Rawat for it.
Earlier, Rawat's decision to nominate his confidant Pradeep Tamta for the lone Rajya Sabha seat from the state had left many leaders fuming. Yashpal Arya and the party's state chief Kishore Upadhyay have openly criticised the chief minister for not giving important positions to leaders from Garhwal region.
They have accused Rawat of promoting his coterie, an echo of the charge levelled by the rebel faction. Amid all this, Soni's critics argue, she has not been able to take charge and sort out the differences. This forced the party's leadership to intervene, directing the state unit to hold an emergency meeting of its coordination committee on 24 August. The meeting was duly held, and it was attended, among others, by Soni, Rawat, Upadhyay, Indira Hridayesh, Pritam Singh, Sarita Arya. The agenda: to find ways to settle the differences.
Speaking to Catch before the meeting, Upadhyay claimed he wasn't aware of Soni's offer to step down. "We have a coordination meeting today and I can't comment on it since I am not aware of any such developments," he said. He, however, admitted that "certain issues need to be addressed if the party has to present a united face". "But these issues can be sorted out with talks and that is why we are holding this meeting," he added.
Soni was named head of the Punjab campaign committee in November 2015 in a major organisational reshuffle which also saw Amarinder Singh return as the PCC chief. Soni had been in the running for PCC president, but the party eventually chose Amarinder.
She later told the media that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had offered her the PCC presidentship, but she asked for Amarinder Singh to be made the face of the party's campaign.