Behind bars for the Commonwealth Games mess, Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi may be down but does not seem to be out of Pune civic politics, allegedly calling shots from his cell in Tihar jail.
A fresh controversy has erupted after Maharashtra Congress President Manikrao Thakre announced formation of a 21-member 'Coordinating Committee' to work out electoral strategy for the forthcoming civic polls here, with the anti-Kalmadi faction within the party alleging that the panel was dominated by loyalists of the tainted MP who brought disrepute to the city which he represented in Parliament.
Sensing the unrest within the party which is facing a tough task to take on the ruling Nationalist Congress Party, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, according to party sources, held a meeting of Congress MLAs and MLCs from Pune in Mumbai early this week, assuring them that the panel set up by the MPCC chief would be entrusted with only the campaign strategy and the actual selection of candidates for the civic polls would be supervised by him and the parliamentary board on merit of the aspirants without any "tilt" in favour of any group.
Kalmadi, who virtually handled Congress party affairs in Pune single-handedly and ruled the roost for about 20 years before his fall from grace, was still having a say in the selection of candidates for the civic poll, slated for Feburary next year, in an effort to perpetuate his domination even in his absence from the scene, his detractors have complained to the state party leadership, sources said.
"Six months back, AICC secretary incharge of Maharashtra Mohan Prakash and Manikrao Thakre had told us that in the absence of Kalmadi, party affairs and strategy in Pune will be decided by a collective leadership. But what we are witnessing is the clear domination of Kalmadi loyalists led by city Congress president Abhay Chhajed," said Mohan Joshi, MLC from Pune who hastened to add that the party activists would nevertheless do their utmost to win the crucial civic polls burying their differences.
Maharashtra congress spokesman Anant Gadgil, a known Kalmadi baiter, said prominent party functionaries from Pune, including the MLAs and MLCs who are insisting on a 'collective leadership' format for Pune to avoid supremacy of any particular group (read Kalmadi) had conveyed their views to the Chief Minister and state party leadership.
Those who objected to the constitution of the 21-member coordination committee included former Maharashtra minister Chandrakant Chhajed and MLC Ulhas Pawar, considered close to Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Responding to reports of dissention within the party, Pune Congress President Abhay Chhajed said, "Its a temporary phase. The Chief Minister gave a patient hearing to all points of view."
"The 21-member panel announced by MPCC chief Thakre would be incharge of only the campaign strategy and is not empowered to select candidate for the civic polls", he told PTI.
When his attention was drawn to the reports being circulated in party ranks that Kalmadi would be putting his stamp of approval on every party candidate from Tihar jail, where many of his followers meet him every week, Chhajed said "these are baseless and personal allegations."
Kalmadi was locked in a bitter fight with NCP leader Ajit Pawar to recapture the 144-member Pune Municipal Corporaton (PMC) after Congress lost the 2007 civic elections and NCP, which emerged as the single largest party in a hung house, wrested power by aligning with the Saffron alliance in what was branded as "Pune Pattern".