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    Kalmadi's arrest creates void in Pune Cong

    Pune: With scam-tainted MP Suresh Kalmadi disowned by Congress, the political void caused by his absence in Pune politics which he dictated for over a decade, has left the party workers confused as they approach the upcoming civic elections in the cultural capital of Maharashtra.

    Notwithstanding the factional discontent which he generated because of his style of functioning, the suspended Congress MP - three-time Lok Sabha member from Pune - ruled the civic politics, garnering the support of a majority of corporates and having a final say in the development profile of this fast expanding city.

    As 'sabse bada khiladi, Suresh Kalmadi' (popular slogan of his supporters in Pune) remains in Tihar jail, facing charges of alleged corruption in CWG, Kalmadi's detractors, who could not go beyond a whispering campaign when he was calling the shots, are now finding themselves without direction in the absence of any strong local leader.

    The party faces tough electoral battle against formidable NCP and the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in early next year's civic polls.

    Apparently acknowledging the ground reality that no single person would have the clout enjoyed by Kalmadi to lead the party workers here, a group of prominent Congressmen are now speaking in one voice demanding 'collective leadership' to decide on the political strategy for the party.

    "If we don't evolve a collective leadership to strengthen the Congress after the recent development (Kalmadi's arrest and suspension from party) there is a distinct possibility that other parties would try to engineer an exodus from the party," cautioned Ulhas Pawar, an MLC considered close to Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

    Echoing Ulhas Pawar's views, former Maharashtra Minister Balasaheb Shivarkar, who hails from Pune, said he had been making the demand for collective leadership for the health of the party for the last one year as excessive dependence on one person was never desirable.

    "I have already written to MPCC President Manikrao Thakre and Chief Minster Prithviraj Chavan to shape a collective leadership in Pune to enable the party to face the civic elections. I am expecting a response in a few days."

    MPCC spokesman Anantrao Gadgil, son of former Union Minister Vitthalrao Gadgil - who was a dominant factor in Pune politics before the Kalmadi era began, said "there is no alternative for a collective leadership as no leader could be imposed upon the people and the cadre."

    Joining the chorus of 'collective leadership', Mohan Joshi, MLC, who unsuccessfully lobbied for party ticket to fight the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Pune but lost the race to a resourceful Kalmadi, said "earlier, (under Kalmadi's leadership) many loyal Congressmen were given a raw deal."

    "Now for winning the civic elections and ensuring proper development of Pune, Congress needs a collective decision-making mechanism devoid of personal agenda. I have requested the MPCC President to evolve a collective leadership mechanism to avoid any kind of groupism detrimental to the party's prospects in the next civic elections," Joshi told PTI.

    Kalmadi held sway over the city unit that fell in line with all his decisions in civic matters and poll strategies. His running feud with NCP leader Ajit Pawar saw NCP deserting Congress and joining hands with the saffron alliance to wrest power in the 2007 municipal elections which threw up the
    controversial 'Pune Pattern'.