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After fanfare, Congress primaries fan resentment among cadre

Sunday, 23 March 2014 - 12:39pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: PTI

Rahul Gandhi brought in the US style 'Primaries' with fanfare to empower grassroot leaders to fight the Lok Sabha elections.
  •  RahulGandhi.JPG After fanfare, Congress primaries fan resentment among cadre dna Research & Archives

Rahul Gandhi brought in the US style 'Primaries' with fanfare to empower grassroot leaders to fight the Lok Sabha elections.

But most of 16 constituencies under this experiment chose sitting MPs, senior leaders, their kith and kin or close associates, virtually defeating the purpose of the exercise.

The experiment witnessed several controversies in various States including in Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh on various counts including selection of constituencies and charges of bogus voting and use of money power.

What was hailed as a pioneering experiment in Indian politics turned out to be one that came under attack from cadres.

After facing a rout in Delhi Assembly elections last year, Gandhi announced in the AICC meeting in January that primaries will be held in 15 Lok Sabha seats on an experimental basis to give the grassroot workers a say in candidate selection.

The whole exercise began on a controversial note in Delhi, when Chandni Chowk represented by Kapil Sibal and North West Delhi represented by Krishna Tirath were put on the block only to be removed after the two protested.

Congress leadership was keen that candidates in at least two Lok Sabha seats here are chosen through the primary exercise in Delhi so that a candidate having the support of party cadres could be nominated to beat anti-incumbency.

The seats of New Delhi and North East Delhi, represented by former PCC chief Jayprakash Agrawal and Ajay Maken respectively, were chosen for the experiment.

Interestingly, Maken had a walkover because there was no rival. Agrawal swept the poll with 252 votes while his rival, an ex-MLA, secured only 47.

In Maharashtra's Wardha, Sagar, son of Congress MP Datta Meghe, won the primaries by a slender margin of 46 votes over Charulata Tokas, daughter of the late Rajasthan Governor Prabha Rau. Sagar got the ticket. 

The pulls and pressures in the faction-ridden Maharashtra Congress ensured that the constituencies up for primaries were changed thrice before they were eventually held in Wardha and Latur. First, they were to be held for the Aurangabad and Dhule seats but candidates here came to blows and Congress leaders here openly opposed the idea.

Then Yavatmal was selected and dropped quickly. Tempers also ran high in Madhya Pradesh where Meenakshi Natarajan won securing 706 votes. Her rival candidate Surendra Sethi, a local leader, who got only 50 votes accused Natarjan of "rigging by adding fake voters". Former Union Minister Janardhan Poojary (76) bagged the Dakshin Kannada seat in Karnataka, defeating U K Monu by 478 to 62 votes in another straight fight in the primaries. This was only after the nomination of Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily's son Harsha was rejected.

Congress MLA from Palitana Pravin Rathod won the primaries from Bhavnagar Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat. As many as 562 votes were cast Rathod polled 303 likes, while three other candidates managed to get almost less than half of these votes together. Congress leaders, however, refuse to accept that the selection of sitting candidates through primaries in any way defeats the very idea saying the purpose of primaries is not to replace candidates in these seats but to ensure that only a candidate having the support of party cadres is chosen.

"Sitting candidates clearing primaries indicate that they have the support of party cadres," a senior party leader said.

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