The newly-elected Congress legislators in Madhya Pradesh were unable to choose a leader on Sunday despite individual consultations with central observers Oscar Fernandes and C.P. Joshi.
Of the 58 MLAs in the 230-member Vidhan Sabha, 56 attended the legislature party meeting at the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee office here on Sunday. After four hours of debate and consultation, the central observers decided to act upon a proposal tabled by Ajay Singh — the Leader of Opposition in the previous Assembly — authorising Congress president Sonia Gandhi to appoint the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).
Mr. Singh and Mahendra Singh Kalukheda are frontrunners for the post of Opposition leader — which is equivalent in rank to that of a Cabinet minister. Mr. Singh, considered close to former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh, was successful in ensuring that the party did comparatively better in his pocket borough of the Vindhya region in the State’s north-eastern corner.
Mr. Kalukheda, an old associate of Union Minister of State for Power Jyotiraditya Scindia — who also led the party’s poll campaign — additionally has the support of Mahakaushal region’s Congress satrap and Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath. Another candidate Mukesh Nayak publicly announced before the meeting that he has withdrawn his name as he does not have the support of most MLAs. MLAs Kamlesh Shah and Manoj Agrawal were absent from the meeting and could not be contacted.
According to the MLAs present at the meeting, the observers sought a consensus. When it was clear that both Mr. Singh and Mr. Kalukheda were interested in the job, Mr. Singh proposed that Ms. Gandhi should decide. This was seconded by Mr. Kalukheda and others like Satyadev Katare — a Scindia loyalist in the run for the post of Deputy Leader. However, it is reliably learnt that the party high command has insisted that the MLAs elect a leader directly.
What followed were individual consultations between each MLA present and the observers. “We were asked to write down the name of the person we want as the CLP leader. This was voluntary and we were allowed to even give more than one name for the CLP and Deputy CLP leaders,” an MLA told The Hindu .
Several MLAs who spoke to The Hindu confirmed that Mr. Singh got a clear majority of votes. However, around 8 p.m. Congress general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh Mohan Prakash announced that the MLAs had resolved to let Ms. Gandhi appoint their leader.
“All concerns will be conveyed to the leadership... The announcement [of a leader] will come in one or two days,” he added.