The Congress on Saturday maintained silence over Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma's renewed attack on outside ally Samajwadi Party, which is hopeful that he will be removed during a minor Cabinet reshuffle being talked about soon.
Yet again targeting the SP, he said there will be a "funeral procession" for the party after the next Lok Sabha elections predicting that it will win only four seats, triggering a fresh war of words with United Progressive Alliance's key outside supporter which demanded his immediate dismissal. Verma also alleged that Yadav has "cheated" Muslims over the Babri Masjid issue.
The SP, which has been angry with Verma's recent attacks, renewed its demand for his removal as minister over the "funeral procession" comment saying he has lost his "mental balance".
Significantly, the Congress had last week snubbed Verma for his remarks that Yadav had links with terrorists had raked up a controversy.
Verma had also expressed "regret" while Congress President Sonia Gandhi had personally spoken to the SP chief making clear to him that her party did not share Verma's view. However, a senior Congress leader said no decision has been taken yet on Verma's removal.
The minister's fresh attack has taken the SP by surprise. Some leaders feel that Verma will be removed from the Cabinet, the Congress had given an assurance in this regard.
"Action would mean either to ensure that Verma goes silent or he is axed. Since he has continued his tirade, we expect him to be removed as minister," a senior leader from the Samajwadi Party said.
The SP's belief also stems from speculation that there is a going to be a minor rejig in the Union cabinet to fill the slots vacated by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which pulled out from the UPA.
Another section in the party, however, feels that Verma's continued attack on Yadav and the SP clearly indicate that he could be having the backing of Rahul Gandhi, who wants to build the party in Uttar Pradesh. "How can Verma continue to attack the SP in a party like the Congress if Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi decide that this should not happen," a leader argued.
Verma is stated close to Rahul Gandhi. In a recent meeting with MPs from Uttar Pradesh, the Congress vice president had asked them to "aggressively" raise issues in the state.
Hitting back at Verma, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav appeared to suggest that it will be the Congress which will get no more than four to five seats.
"Parties which struggled to get 5,000-10,000 votes in the assembly polls in most of the constituencies will be able to win not more than four to five seats out of 80 in Lok Sabha elections," Akhilesh told reporters in Allahabad.
SP General Secretary Ram Gopal Yadav said Verma held a grudge against the party for two successive defeats of his son Rakesh in assembly polls while another party general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha said the remark was "unfortunate" and demanded his "immediate removal" from the government.
Verma had recently triggered a storm by alleging Mulayam had "terrorist links" leading to calls for his removal from the Union ministry. He had later regretted his remarks.
The SP had maintained Verma should have personally apologized to Mulayam and expressing regret was not enough.