Congress state leaders breaking bread to remove bad blood

Senior Congress leaders are breaking rotis together in a bid to resolve disputes within the Grand Old Party, especially in poll-bound states where it is planning to stage comebacks.

Unofficially, it is referred to as "dinner diplomacy" - thrashing out difference over plates of daal, papad, and in some cases, chicken curry.

In poll-bound Gujarat, Punjab, and also in Rajasthan, wheels have started rolling - in upper echelons of the state Congress units and kitchens of leaders.

Congress insiders agree "dinner diplomacy" might be the best way to dilute differences. Some believe seeing the leaders, who were earlier engaged in factional struggles, break bread sends a positive message to the rank and file.

The state Congress unit of Gujarat has taken the lead.

Siddhartha Patel, the son of former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel, hosted a dinner for senior Congress leaders of Gujarat on 29 August. The guest list included state unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki, former state chief Arjun Modhwadia and legislative party leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, among others.

In return, Modhwadia hosted dinner at his place on Monday.

"I thought it would be a nice idea to ensure regular meetings among senior leaders over dinner," All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary in charge of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Gurudas Kamat, told Business Standard.

He added, "A lot of issues are discussed and sorted out at such get-togethers."

In Rajasthan, former chief minister Ashok Gehlot would host a dinner this week for the leaders of the party.

A serious problem that has dogged Congress' state units is infighting among leaders. In fact, differences among state unit leaders are often so acute as to affect the party's poll performances.

Though evidence is only anecdotal about this, speculations are strong about how many votes the party has often lost to infighting.

In Gujarat, where the Congress has been out of power for two decades and overshadowed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the state's chief minister, keeping the flock together is of utmost importance. The state goes to Assembly polls next year.

Congress lost Rajasthan to the BJP in 2013. There, state unit chief Sachin Pilot often has to fight fire among the group with loyalties to either former chief minister Gehlot or party veteran C P Joshi.

Joshi is now the AICC member in charge of Bihar, Assam and West Bengal.

In poll-bound Punjab, too, the message of food diplomacy has gone down well.

State unit chief Amarinder Singh has hosted a few lunches for senior leaders such as Partap Singh Bajwa, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Chaudhary Lal Singh and Sunil Jakhar.

In June, Bajwa's brother, Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa, hosted a quiet dinner for Amarinder. The event was kept under wraps.

"Everyone is meeting everyone and all state leaders are working together," AICC in charge of Punjab Asha Kumari said.

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