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Sathe, Salve hold fire

By Mahesh Vijapurkar

MUMBAI SEPT. 2. Despite threats and deadlines, two senior Vidarbha Congress (I) leaders, Vasant Sathe and N. K. P. Salve, did not set up their pro-Vidarbha party aimed at securing Statehood for the region today but one of their colleagues, another former MP, Banwarilal Purhoit, set up a new Vidarbha Rajya Party. Mr. Salve and Mr. Sathe were described as "habitually backing out from the brink" but Mr. Purhoit secured support from those demanding new States of Bundelkhand, Hairtpradesh, Telangana and Purvanchal.

Lok Dal's Ajit Singh and Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao from Telangana told the meeting where this new party was formed that all these five smaller States sought had an effective strength of 115 MPs and if even half of them were in favour of new smaller States, then the Centre, regardless of which party was at the helm, would have to yield.

Mr. Salve and Mr. Sathe announced their intent last night not to form the new party, to set up which they had resigned from the Congress on August 17, set a deadline of August 30 for the Congress(I) bosses to concede at least a resolution in the Maharashtra Assembly favouring Vidarbha as a new State or face the consequence of a electoral fight against "those who are anti-Vidarbha." Today, their refusal to be a party marked a turnabout but without any assurance at all from the AICC(I) that it would instruct Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde to steer such a resolution. The Congress leaders, who wanted to opt out of the party to set up a new entity, however felt that the high command's approach had changed and "from an earlier stance of negativism," as Mr. Salve said, "they are now convinced that we will form a party if necessary." But those who moved forward and formed the Vidarbha Rajya Party accused the duo of Mr. Sathe and Mr. Salve of betrayal; they recalled how the question of their consistency was raised when the idea of a new party was mooted.

Mr. Salve told The Hindu that "We are Congressmen and we cannot fight for a cause without the Congress(I) being in it. If the party could not be set up today as announced on August 17, it is because Mr. Purhohit who was assigned the preparatory legal work did not do it." But he insisted that their resignations were not withdrawn, that they continued to back Vidarbha and wanted a resolution in the next few weeks so that Parliament could deal with it in its winter session." They said that Mr. Purhoit "suddenly shifted his stand" and did not want the word "Congress" in the new party.

Responding to this, Mr. Purhoit told The Hindu that "the day they left the Congress, they continued to call Ms. Gandhi their leader and this is an impediment in securing the support of others who favour Vidarbha but not the Congress.

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