Bahuguna says ready to contest from BJP seat

Dehra Dun: Amidst allegations of horse trading, Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna today said he was ready to contest for his MLA seat from any place, including a constituency currently held by opposition BJP.

"It is not a question of BJP seat. All seats belong to voters and I can contest elections from anywhere from Dharchula in Pithoragarh to Badrinath in Chamoli," Bahuguna told reporters amid reports that BJP MLA from Sitarganj, Kiran Mandal was planning to quit his seat in favour of Bahuguna.

Bahuguna, who returned here after holding consultations with the Congress high command, also said he met the party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi but refused to give more information.

Asked to comment on BJP`s allegation that Mandal has been held hostage by ruling Congress, Bahuguna said, "BJP people are PhD in spreading rumours and we (Congressmen) are only high-school pass. I want to make it clear that there is no intention from our side to break MLAs from BJP as we are already enjoying the majority of 41 MLAs," he said.

Bahuguna, however, said he and his party would welcome any leader- be it MLA or a office-bearer- from any party, including the BJP if he quits his party in disgust. Bahuguna`s comments came amid reports that the rigorous search for an assembly seat for Bahuguna may soon be over as a couple of MLAs from both the ruling Congress as well as the opposition BJP are ready to "vacate" their seats for him.

The chief minister is expected to make announcement regarding his plan to contest assembly election shortly, Congress sources said.

Significantly, union minister Harish Rawat is opposed to the idea of vacating a BJP seat for Bahuguna saying Congress should not follow the "bad precedent" of the saffron party in 2007 when one of its MLAs had vacated the Dhumakot seat for the then chief minister B C Khanduri. However, a section of Congress leaders are supporting Bahuguna to contest from a BJP seat.

Mandal, whose whereabouts are not known for the past one week, wants land ownership rights and permanent resident status for all Bengalis settled in Sitarganj as a quid pro quo for his resignation. Mandal has told the Congress party that he would vacate his seat only if Bahuguna contests from Sitarganj, the sources said.

But the move to get a BJP seat vacated has irked the top state BJP leaders, who last evening went to Raj Bhawan to register their protest against alleged horse trading before Governor Aziz Quereshi. The BJP leaders also alleged that Congress has kidnapped Mandal for the past one week.

A couple of Congress MLAs, including Karanparyag and Raipur MLAs Anusuiya Prasad Maikhuri and Umesh Sharma aka Kau Pradhan have told the chief minister that they are ready to resign from their seats in case if he wants to contest from their areas.