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Priority now to ensure Cong victory in state polls, will campaign wherever called: Azad

Nearly a week after he and some of his colleagues, who wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi last year seeking reforms in the party, addressed an event in Jammu that was seen as a show of strength by the dissident group, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad Friday signalled that issues in the party can wait till completion of the Assembly elections. The party has already deferred the election for the post of Congress president to June.

Azad said the “priority” now is to ensure the victory of the Congress in the elections and said he and his colleagues will campaign wherever they are called. Asked whether a senior leader like him needs an invitation, he said he generally campaigns when candidates invite him. “We will campaign for the party and the candidates wherever we are called… ensuring the Congress’s victory will be our focus for the next two months,”Azad told the media.

His comments came days after the Congress asked him and other signatories to last year’s letter to focus their energies in five election-bound states to strengthen the hands of the party.

The party had not condemned an incident in which a group of Congress workers in Jammu held a demonstration against Azad and burnt his effigy. The Congress had said the people, just as Azad, have a free right to raise their voice.

Azad and Congress leaders Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Raj Babbar and Vivek Tankha were in Jammu last week.

They addressed a joint public meeting, where the party leadership was criticised for not utilising an “experienced” leader like Azad and letting him retire from Rajya Sabha. A day later, Azad praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi as someone who “does not hide his true self”. Subsequently, Sharma lashed out at the Bengal Congress leadership for the “alliance” with the Abbas Siddiqui-led Indian Secular Front, saying such association flew in the face of the Congress’s core ideology.

All these moves had sent a signal that the internecine battle in the Congress, triggered by the letter, was deepening. Interestingly, four senior Congress leaders, who were among the signatories of the letter, had disassociated themselves from these actions, signalling a rift in the dissident camp.

While Azad held seat-sharing talks with the DMK in Tamil Nadu in the last Assembly elections, he has not been given any responsibility so far. Some of the letter-writers, however, had been given assignments. While former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan has been made head of the screening committee for selection of candidates in Assam, former Union Minister M Veerappa Moily has been made a “senior observer” for party’s campaign in Tamil Nadu. CWC member Mukul Wasnik has been given the charge of overseeing the preparations in Assam.

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