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It’s not the first time that Ghulam Nabi Azad wore a saffron turban while in Jammu. As chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, he wore it each time he visited the Hindu-dominated Jammu. But on Saturday, when not just Azad but seven others wore it and spoke about the state of Congress, it made a powerful statement; especially as saffron is associated with the BJP too.

Not that the G-23, or G-8 as they were that day, are even thinking of crossing over to the BJP. They made it clear that they were with the Congress but the present state of the party was unacceptable to them.

Congress officially reacted to the meeting in Jammu by appealing to G-23 that they were senior members of the party and should instead campaign in poll-bound states. But a G-23 member told “Have we even been involved in the poll strategy? Have they asked us to campaign? We have been left out.”

So what’s next? Jammu was clearly not the last stop. Similar meetings are planned in other states as well. Next could be Himachal Pradesh, where interestingly Anand Sharma comes from.

Sharma has his grudges. The man, who has been a staunch Gandhi family loyalist and who was at one time the eyes and ears of the Gandhis, is now out in the cold. His immediate grudge is that while he has a year to go in Rajya Sabha, he was overlooked for the post of leader of opposition which went to Rahul Gandhi loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge. A source close to Sharma said: “It will be unacceptable to him to listen to orders from Kharge.” Sharma is deputy leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha.

After Himachal Pradesh, other states which will have similar meetings are Haryana, Punjab, UP and Delhi. But it doesn’t just stop here. The members of G-23 are mulling the possibility of putting up a candidate for June’s Congress presidential polls. If Rahul Gandhi is a candidate, it’s clear that he will face no problem but a “rebel” standing up against him will just rake up dirt.

The G-23 have been careful to camouflage their dissent by pitching for a strong Congress. In Jammu, that’s what most leaders said. The letter they wrote in August to Sonia Gandhi made the point that it was a party which was leaderless and rudderless. Even now, they ask who is making decisions for the party in the absence of a full-time president as Sonia Gandhi is no longer involved in day-to-day affairs. The dig is clearly at Rahul Gandhi. And this is where G-23 are being attacked by the present Congress leaders who say “they are ungrateful and are now hurting the party in the midst of polls”.

Congress was restrained in its response to the Jammu meeting. It is unlikely to take any action against the dissidents as it would invite distraction from the polls. While the rebels aren’t talking of splitting from the party, they know it’s inevitable. The split in the Congress is very much on the cards and this could be timed with Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins of the party formally. The ball has just got rolling.

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