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Unpiloted Projects


Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to introduce primaries in the Lok Sabha elections looks a non-starter, reports N K Suprabha
N. K. SUPRABHA | Issue Dated: February 16, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Elections | Rahul Gandhi | Narendra Modi | AICC | Kapil Sibal and Krishna Tirath |

It is a little ironic that while the media has been highlighting the so-called presidential system sought to be imposed on the General Elections between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, it took the Congress scion to introduce an element of American style democracy – albeit with disastrous results.

Rahul’s experiment of choosing Congress candidates for the Lok Sabha polls through the ‘primary system’ in 16 constituencies has already run into trouble. Two constituencies were dropped from the list no sooner had their names being made public. The reasons: party rivalry came out in the open as the potential of such a system could hurt well entrenched party interests.

In his much-watched speech to party leaders at the AICC special session meeting at New Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium recently, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi proposed that a pilot project on these lines will be undertaken in 16 Lok Sabha constituencies where candidates would be decided on the basis of inputs and feedback from party workers. “We will ask block presidents, workers and district president to directly select candidates,” he told the session. For good measure, he also added that the experiment will be slowly extended to other constituencies.

As a follow up, the AICC put up a list of 16 constituencies for public viewing. Hours later, two constituencies were dropped off from the 16-strong list. Names of Chandni Chowk and North West Delhi were found deleted.

According to insider sources, union ministers Kapil Sibal and Krishna Tirath, who currently represent Chandni Chowk and Delhi North West, have objected to their constituencies being included in the list of those selected for the ‘primary system’ project, ahead of the general election. As a consequence, the constituencies vanished from the party website. But despite earlier reservations, sources said at a meeting held at the residence of senior cabinet party Ghulam Nabi Azad all seven Delhi MPs including Sibal and Tirath said they wanted candidates to be selected in their constituencies through primaries. Naturally, the boss has ordered.

The constituencies on this primary list include Guwahati (Assam), Bhavnagar and Vadodara (Gujarat), Bangalore North and Daskshin Kannada (Karnataka), Indore and Mandsaur (Madhya Pradesh), Aurangabad and Yavatamal-Washim (Maharashtra), Bikaner and Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan) Sant Kabir Nagar and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and Kolkata North (West Bengal).

Sadly for the Congress, such a selection could be the beginning of their problems – as was amply demonstrated in Karnataka. The two constituencies selected from the state - Bangalore North and Daskshin Kannada- are facing unprecedented problems. After the list was made public, the number of aspirants in the two have doubled! The two candidates for Daskshin Kannada overnight jumped to five.

Primaries have the potential to threaten party satraps. From the moment, KPCC chief G Parameshwara announced that Dakshina Kannada will elect a candidate through the ‘primary system’, all hell broke loose. Janardana Poojari, a front runner from this constituency was upset with the Congress high command when they included Harsha Moily, son of Union minister for petroleum and natural gas M Veerappa Moily as a probable candidate. The visibly upset Dakshina Kannada unit of the party implored state and central leaders to give the ticket to Poojary. Not just that: one minister and two Congress legislators from the district expressed ‘shock’ at the inclusion of Harsha Moily’s name and all seven legislators, including three ministers from the district, the district congress committee, block Congress committees, members of the zilla panchayat and Mangalore City Corporation councilors have publicly backed Poojary, who is a long-time winner from this constituency.

These two are not the only suitors for Dakshin Kannada - now three others want to test the waters. Among the new names include Ivan D’Souza, PV Mohan, Tejomaya and Kripa Alva. Some Congress members are, however, opposed Poojary, saying he was given a chance to prove his mettle in the 2009 General Elections elections but did not win. So the chances of a ‘new’ face emerging are high – as are the chances of dissent.
Insiders fear if this trend catches on, it could lead to an all-out war for tickets. In Bangalore (North), probable candidates Rajeev Gowda, K C Ramamurthy, C Narayanaswamy and G C Chandrashekhar have already gone public with their squabbles!

Party members confirmed that voters list will comprise select office-bearers, district committee cells, members of the zilla panchayat and former and serving Congress MLAs and MPs.  According to them, the election is likely to take place before the last week of February. There is also the fear that heavyweight leaders may use muscle to get their names in.

Though senior Congress members are shaken about what could happen to their fiefdoms, there is no shortage of volunteers.  Leaders like Delhi’s Ajay Maken and five-time MP from Mumbai North, Gurudas Kamath, have offered their constituencies for this pilot project.

The last time such a contest was witnessed was at the Congress Working Committee, the highest policy making body, in 1997 at the AICC plenary at Kolkata when late Sitaram Kesri was the party chief.

Giving broad indications that Rahul plans to shake up the existing system of appointment of office bearers and nomination of candidates for elections, Ajay Maken said, “The idea is to ensure that a common worker has a say in decision making even at the top levels. This new system will get rid of existing high command culture.’’ That, needless to say, is easier said than done.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017