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Power struggle for Dalit leadership in Congress

Sujay Mehdudia

Position of Chaudhary Prem Singh marginalised Real struggle is now between the Food and Supplies Minister, Raj Kumar Chauhan; Sultanpuri MLA, Jai Kishen, and the Bawana MLA, Surinder Kumar

NEW DELHI: In fast-changing political equations within the Delhi Congress, a new and forceful section of new Dalit leaders are trying to establish their identity, triggering off a power struggle among various leaders to gain control over this important vote bank that has the potential to throw up an alternative leadership at the State level.

The Dalit leadership in the Delhi unit of the Congress is headed by the Assembly Speaker, Chaudhary Prem Singh, who has set a record of sorts by having won all the elections he has contested so far. However, his age and the new crop of Dalit leaders has somewhat marginalised the position held by Chaudhary Prem Singh although he continues to command respect among his partymen and voters.

Political observers here are of the view that the real struggle is now between the Development and Food and Supplies Minister, Raj Kumar Chauhan, the AICC secretary and Sultanpuri MLA, Jai Kishen, and the Bawana MLA, Surinder Kumar.

Though Mr. Chauhan has managed to hold his own as a minister in the Sheila Dikshit Government, he has failed to extend his area of influence beyond his own constituency. Mr. Chauhan continues to be the favourite of the Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, despite the fact that his relations with his one-time political guru and Outer Delhi Member of Parliament, Sajjan Kumar, have come under strain. Mr. Chauhan also has a running battle with Mr. Jai Kishen and though the boundaries of their constituencies run almost parallel, they leave no opportunity to run down each other.

Observers feel that in view of the changing equations, a lot of re-positioning is taking place to capture the leadership of this strong vote bank. It is learnt that Mr. Sajjan Kumar is now focusing on promoting Mr. Surinder Kumar as the new Dalit leader of the area and his name has come up as a strong contender for the post of district president of the Rohini District Congress Committee.

A two-time MLA, Mr. Surinder Kumar, is a strong opponent of Ms. Dikshit and has been at the forefront of the campaign against her. This is also being seen as a snub to Mr. Jai Kishen, a one-time protégé and now rival of Mr. Kumar. Interestingly, Mr. Jai Kishen is the only leader who has held rallies and public meeting to highlight the plight of the Dalits and secure them their rights, even getting the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, to address one of the meetings. In fact, he has also developed a good rapport with Ms. Gandhi, something that is resented by his rivals. However, after having fallen out with Mr. Kumar, he has failed to capitalise on the situation and build his own leadership among Dalits. "They continue to be directed by other senior party leaders leaving hardly any space for them to grow. They have to break out of the shackles and cultivate their own independent identity,'' said a senior party leader.

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