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Lok Sabha Elections: 11 Congress Ministers on a sticky wicket

Monday, 14 April 2014 - 9:00am IST | Agency: dna

On a sticky wicket, Congress rushes observers to give push to campaigns

Congress is rushing central observers to cover at least 300 Lok Sabha seats as reports pouring in from different parts of the country suggest heavy losses in the already concluded phases and a doom for 11 central ministers going to polls in the remaining phases.

At a cabinet meeting called after the announcement of general elections when the model code of conduct was already in force in the first week of March, Union coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, fighting a battle of survival, was pushing hard a package to revive textile mills and the industrial base of his constituency — Kanpur.

Though he succeeded in his endeavour, commerce minister Anand Sharma asked him who his main opponent was. When he replied that BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi was expected to be his contender, a grin on the face of his colleagues summed up the mood, and one of them quipped: "This package will hardly ensure your return."

To add to Jaiswal's miseries, due to the model code of conduct, he could not announce or even take credit for this package.

Jaiswal is among 11 central ministers fighting a battle of survival in the coming phases of Lok Sabha polls in North India, mostly in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Inputs from party headquarters suggest that ministers such as Salman Khurshid, Sriprakash Jaiswal, Beni Prasad Verma, Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh, Pradip Jain (all from UP), Chandresh Kumari Katoch, Namo Narain Meena, Sachin Pilot, Jitendra Singh and top party leader and former minister CP Joshi (all contesting from Rajasthan) are on a sticky wicket.

Senior minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who looked set to manage a comfortable victory a few days ago in Udhampur is now seen fighting a tough battle, keeping in view the voting patterns in the nearby Jammu Lok Sabha seat, that went to polls in the third phase. The BJP in Jammu managed a heavy turnout in the Hindu-majority districts of Jammu and Samba (between 70 % and 80%), while the Congress could not ensure a matching turnout in the Muslim- dominated Poonch and Rajouri districts, where polling percentage was a dismal 55%. Party sources here say that if this pattern is repeated in Udhampur seat, Azad will find it difficult to sail through in his first Lok Sabha poll from Jammu and Kashmir.

To put up a fighting face in the next phases, the Congress high command has decided to rush observers to 300 odd constituencies as well as to the crucial seats where top ministers are in the field to coordinate between local party campaigners and the party's "war room" in Delhi to stem the tide. The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by party vice president Rahul Gandhi at his residence here last week. The members, which reviewed the performance of its candidates in 104 Lok Sabha constituencies that went to polls in the first three phases, was quite disappointed to learn that internal assessment was suggesting a debacle, and that a last-minute push was necessary.

As far as Delhi seats go, inputs suggested that the party was comfortable in just one seat of New Delhi — contested by party general secretary Ajay Maken. The party had swept all seven seats in the 2009 election.

The strategy meeting decided to mount a more aggressive campaign in the remaining phases of the election, party sources said. The union ministers, MPs and senior state leaders whose constituencies have already gone to polls were asked to immediately to move to the remaining constituencies to help the candidates in their campaign. Rahul's team of key aides, headed by Randeep Singh Surjewala, will assign leaders constituencies and monitor the feedback.

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