New Delhi: The Congress seems to have abandoned its time-tested candidate selection process. Considerations like caste, gender and others were given the go-by. The only norm that determines the grand old party’s decisions is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s choice of candidates. This is what happened in Vadodara, where BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is contesting.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi had introduced the “primaries” in the party for candidate selection in 17 seats with much fanfare, Vadodara being one of them. Days after Modi’s name was finalised, Narendra Rawat, the candidate who won the primaries and was even declared the Congress candidate, was replaced with heavyweight Madhusudan Mistry, aide of Rahul. Officially, the party claimed Rawat himself had “offered to give up” his seat. But party insiders reveal otherwise.
The Congress had started re-calibrating its strategy after Modi’s name was announced.
This is not the only instance. The Congress had declared that office-bearers would be spared from elections so that they did not lose focus on organisational activities. That principle was put aside when BJP started announcing its candidates.
After Arun Jaitley was fielded from Amritsar, the Congress pushed Amarinder Singh into the fray against the BJP leader. Party insiders said he had to be coaxed into fighting the elections, as he had already declared he wasn’t keen to contest.
To put a strong candidate against Sushma Swaraj from Vidisha, the party selected Laxman Singh, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s brother. Speculations are that Digvijaya might be fielded against Modi in Varanasi. Insiders confirm the party was about to announce local MLA Ajay Rai from this seat but it put on hold the decision at the last moment.
Now, with its back against the wall, the principle of “youth over experience” has also been given the go-by. Leaders like Ambika Soni , who quit the government a year ago and publicly declared she would be focusing on party work, was fielded from Anandpur Sahib. Soni had opted for the Rajya Sabha route to Parliament and party sources privy to behind-the-scenes machinations confirm how displeased she was to being compelled to fight the Lok Sabha polls.
Soni replaced Ravinder Singh Bittu, the Youth Congress leader who was also the sitting MP from there. Bittu has now been fielded from Ludhiana, Manish Tewari’s constituency.
Veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad has displaced Lal Singh from Udhampur, a seat was won by the Congress in 2009. This was one of the first instances, when a sitting MP (who had earlier been told he was getting the nomination and had even got posters printed) has been edged out. Mani Shankar Aiyar is contesting his seat Mayiladuthurai, the heart of DMK territory. Left with no option and after hectoring by Rahul, seniors have now offered to contest the polls.
In the Northeast, it is the children of Congressmen who seem to be most favoured by the party. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s son Gourav, former Union Minister Santosh Mohan Deb’s daughter, Sushmita, and Assam’s social welfare minister Akon Bora’s son Manas have all got Congress nominations. Pragmatism and compulsion appear to be the ruling the roost in the party.