Bhopal/Jaipur/Raipur, Dec 12 (IANS) Veteran Congress leaders Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel appear to have emerged as the frontrunners in the race for chief ministership in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh respectively as the party put in motion the process of government formation in the three states where it dislodged the ruling BJP from power in the just-concluded Assembly elections.
The newly-elected members in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan met in the presence of high command observers and passed a unanimous resolution leaving it to Congress President Rahul Gandhi to take the final call on who will be the Chief Cinister in their states. The central observers are expected to reach Delhi and apprise Gandhi of their assessment, which included consultations with individual MLAs.
Party leaders and contenders for chief ministership Kamal Nath and Jyotiradtiya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh and Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, met the Governors of their states and staked claim to form the government. In Jaipur, outside the venue of Congress legislature party meeting, Pilot's young supporters raised slogans hailing his leadership.
Their claim to form the next government was made easy with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party extending the support of three of their MLAs to Congress in Madhya Pradesh to keep the BJP out. BSP chief Mayawati also announced that her six MLAs in Rajasthan would support Congress if necessary.
In both the states, the Congress fell short of securing an absolute majority by just two seats while in Chhattisgarh it scored a landslide victory by securing 68 of the 90 seats.
Senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters in Raipur that the MLAs would meet and follow the Congress procedure of electing a new leader in which they will be consulted.
Amidst pressures and counter-pressures, the Congress President could be weighing the option of preferring experience to youth in view of the nature of the verdict in which the party could only manage to barely defeat BJP which requires deft handling of the political situation.
While Kamal Nath, a nine-time MP, was appointed the Madhya Pradesh unit chief early this year, the other aspirant, Scindia, was later made the campaign committee chief. Both are MPs and did not contest the assembly polls.
In Rajasthan, Gehlot, a former two-time Chief Minister, was pitted in the elctoral fray along with Pilot at the last minute and both of them have won their seats. Pilot's claim to chief minsitership rests on the work he had done to galvanise the party in the last more than four years as state party chief. Both of them met Governor Kalyan Singh on Wednesday along with several other Congress leaders.
Chhattisgarh may not pose much of a challenge for Gandhi as Baghel is widely-credited with organising the party, specially after the assassination of its top leaders, including Vidya Charan Shukla, Nand Kumar Patel and Mahendra Karma, by Maoists more than five years ago.
The other names doing the rounds are T.S. Singh Deo, Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, party MP Tamradhwaj Sahu and former union minister Charan Das Mahant.
Earlier, accompanied by Scindia, Kamal Nath met Governor Anandiben Patel and staked his party's claim to form the next government in the state.
"We have staked claim," he told reporters after the meeting at Raj Bhavan. Asked who would be the Chief Minister, Kamal Nath shot back: "I don't know."
Late on Tuesday, Kamal Nath wrote to the Governor urging her to give him an appointment so that he could stake claim as the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly with "majority support".
The Congress won 114 seats, two short of a majority in the 230-member house.
After the meeting with the Governor, Scindia said "of course it would be a privilege" when he was asked whether he would like to be the Chief Minister.
He said the Congress has the legislative majority with the backing of all four Independents and three MLAs of BSP and SP.
Kamal Nath said the top priority of new Congress government will be to work for "farmers and unemployed youth".
The statement came after his meeting with the outgoing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
"We have to create a new environment of trust in Madhya Pradesh," he added.
Asked about the farm loan waiver promised by the party within 10 days of taking power, he said: "Let the government be formed first."
Before meeting the Governor, Kamal Nath described Chouhan as "my friend" and said "he fought a good election".
Meanwhile, Chouhan tendered his resignation to the Governor, taking moral responsibility for the party's electoral loss in the state.
"Ab mai mukt hoon. (Now I am free)... The responsibility of defeat is totally mine," Chouhan said.
"No one has got the mandate. Since we have also not got the mandate, we did not stake claim to form the government," Chouhan added.