Former Cong minister resigns; may join BSP ahead of LS polls

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New Delhi, May 6 (UNI) In a major setback to Congress in Uttar Pradesh, former Union minister and Rajya Sabha member Akhilesh Das today resigned from the party and Parliament blaming a caucus of leaders working around AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Das, who was last month dropped from the Union Council of Ministers today handed over his resignation to Rajya Sabha chairman.

He later told reporters that he has also sent his resignation to AICC president Sonia Gandhi.

Mr Das, who represented Uttar Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha for two terms, made a dramatic move in the Upper House by walking up to Chairman Hamid Ansari and handing over his resignation letter as soon as the House met.

Mr Das is an old hand who has been active in UP politics especially Amethi.

Known as a resource mobiliser for the party during elections, Mr Das holds influence in areas around the UP capital where Congress is battling a strong BJP presence. His calling the quits could hit Congress to some extent, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where the party is trying hard to resurrect itself.

Sources in the UP Congress claimed that the ''rebel'' leader may join the Bahujan Samaj Party ahead of the Lok Sabha electons. ''He had always wanted to contest the LS poll from Lucknow seat,'' said a UP Congress general secretary.

He, however, denied he had any plans to join the BSP. ''I have not taken any decision till now,'' he said.

Interestingly, this is for the second time that Mr Das feels that he has been ''betrayed'' by Congress. During the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, he was asked to contest against former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee from Lucknow but was made to step back at the last moment in favour of Mr Ram Jethmalani, a noted lawyer.

''There was a coterie surrounding Rahulji and if the coterie was not happy with somebody, then that person has to suffer,'' he said pointing to a group of UP Congress leaders considered close to the Gandhis.

He claimed that ''unfortunately'' only the ''coterie'' can have an access to Rahul.

The son of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Babu Banarsi Das Gupta, he was the Minister of State for Steel before last month's Cabinet reshuffle. Mr Das' term as a Member of Parliament was to expire in November this year.

To a question whether he was unhappy over inclusion of Mr Jitin Prasada, son of former UP Congress President Jintendra Prasada, Mr Das, a two-time Rajya Sabha member, replied in negative, saying he was against the caucus which was damaging the party interests.

Mr Das' father Babu Banarasi Das Gupta headed the UP government briefly during the Janata Party's rule in 1977. He was one of the leaders who had rebelled against the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to join the Janata Party.

The junior Das entered the political arena in early 1990s and became the Mayor of Lucknow in 1994.

Mr Akhilesh Das today is a well-known educationist of Lucknow and runs various educational and professional institutions, including an engineering college, dental colleges, a medical college and a management institute, in UP.

His proximity to former UP Chief Minister and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is well-known.

He also brings out a Hindi daily from Lucknow.

UNI NAB/KAS MSJ HS1605

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