Congress to Jagan: Don't cross 'Lakshman rekha'

New Delhi: Jaganmohan Reddy has done what few Congressmen do - he has defied party president Sonia Gandhi. Jagan, who represents Kadapa in Parliament, insists that he will resume his controversial "Odarpu Yatra" - suspended last month after criticism from his party and violent protests in Andhra Pradesh when he tried to enter the politically-sensitive region of Telangana.

Despite Gandhi's reported reservations, Jagan has announced he will travel to Srikakulam on Thursday, the birth anniversary of his father, YSR Reddy, who was chief minister when his helicopter crashed in September, killing him and four other people.

The yatra or tour is ostensibly aimed at visiting the homes of those who lost family members, allegedly from shock and grief, after YSR died. But it's more a show of strength, and the Congress wants to nip it in the bud. "All true committed and loyal Congressmen must necessarily observe both the party dharma and laxman rekha of propriety and party discipline," party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.

"Failure to do so would perforce lead to a chain of consequences, which are best avoidable. We hope and trust that compliance will take the place of defiance," he added.

Despite the tough talking, party sources say the Congress is not keen on any real action against Jagan.  

YSR Junior, as he is often called, received much more vocal support in the weeks after his father's death, when local Congress members campaigned for him to be made the chief minister. The party, however, chose then Finance Minister, K Rosaiah. Since then, Jagan has tried hard to periodically remind the leadership in New Delhi that his camp is a potent one. The threat, if he ever posed one, has waned considerably, though - few Congressmen are rallying around him for his tour.

"Sonia is the ultimate leader for Congress. Whoever wants to stay in the party should listen to her," says Ponnam Prabhakar, the Congress MP from Karimnagar. "What is Jagan's recognition without his father....what is his contribution?" asks P. Shanker Rao, a Congress MLA.

"Whoever stays in Congress will be a hero. Whoever leaves the party will become a zero." Rao added.

In early June,  Jagan met Gandhi in Delhi to seek permission to resume his tour. Now, in an open letter to the people of Andhra Pradesh, Jagan says Sonia Gandhi had suggested assembling the family members  at one place and offer them financial help. But Jagan says the tour is to console families, not to distribute money.

Jagan supporters who are ministers in the Rosaiah cabinet are hoping they do not have to choose between the party and the Kadapa MP. "Still 24 hours more time is there," says Sridhar Babu, a minister. "Let us hope that the High command comes around in a positive way."

With Jagan refusing to bow to his party's directive, that appears to be wishful thinking.
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