Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s plans to decentralise the selection of party candidates for the Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh polls is going awry. Senior leaders are reverting to the time-tested formula of leaving the process to state unit chiefs and party president Sonia Gandhi
The Congress took the lead in Chhattisgarh by releasing its first list of 70 candidates. But it’s struggling elsewhere, with election committees leaving candidates’ selection to top leaders.
Three months ago, Gandhi had asked Congress state units to draw up a list of candidates. He introduced an elaborate process that involved taking feedback from cadres. He asked state unit chiefs and general secretaries to take lists of likely candidates from district presidents and give weight to their preferences.
“The general secretary in charge of the state and state chiefs held meetings with district committee chiefs on prospective candidates,” said a leader.
“But as the exercise ended, we saw the same old practice of election committees leaving the final selection to the leaders,” he said.
For selection of candidates for the Delhi elections, the election committee met in New Delhi for two days but left the selection to the discretion of chief minister Sheila Dikshit and state unit chief JP Agarwal instead of finalising three names for each constituency and sending the list to the screening committee for a final selection.
A similar exercise is going on in other states where leaders are differing on the criteria to be adopted. They are, therefore, passing a resolution to leave selection to the discretion of top leaders. Gandhi had also introduced a system of neutral observers, who will meet block and district leaders of the states to understand larger problems.” Some leaders are threatened by the rigorous system of candidate selection aimed to introduce greater democracy in the party,” said a Gandhi aide, who feels that a feedback-based system is seen as a threat by some leaders sitting in the party headquarters.
In his address at the Jaipur session last January, Gandhi had lashed out at the prevailing system of ticket distribution. “When it comes to ticket distribution, the district presidents are not asked, the organisation is not consulted, the decision on who should get a ticket is taken at the top. What happens then? Leaders from other parties come right before the elections, lose the election and then return to their party. And what does our loyal party worker say? He looks up and sees a leader from another party parachuting in, losing the election and flying off in an aeroplane. We have to change this,” he said.
Gandhi told a group of party officials handling local bodies in Kerala that the concept of decentralisation was fitted well in the overall scheme of democratic organisational setups.“All parties should adopt the decentralisation model. It will ensure that the parties reflect the will of the people at the grassroots. I will do my best to put into practice this principle in the Indian National Congress,” he said.
Ahead of candidate selection in election-bound states, Congress sources said that Gandhi told the leaders to ensure that the party did not give tickets to people with a proven criminal background. He also said that it was important that the block units in all these states have a larger say in the selection and that candidates should not be decided from Delhi or the state headquarters, but that decision making should percolate down.