Congress was today ambivalent on the issue of giving tickets to leaders facing corruption cases with one section warning that fielding such "tainted" candidates would cost the party in a big way.
At a time when Rahul Gandhi is seeking to make corruption a big issue in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, there is also the view within the party that some basic criteria should be followed to ensure that leaders do not lose out on tickets due to political vendetta.
Congress, which came out with its first list of 194 candidates on Saturday, has not made any announcement regarding the fate of former Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and his Chandigarh seat or about fielding former Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Suresh Kalmadi and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.
"You have the liberty to speculate. We do not have that liberty. Let a decision on those seats first come. I will respond then. I am not here to speculate. "Why should I answer all these questions. On the day the candidate for Chandigarh is announced, I will answer these," party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters at an AICC briefing here.
Meanwhile, a senior leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that clarity was needed on the issue. "The question is how we define the word tainted. Simply because somebody lodges an FIR against somebody, you cannot deny ticket to a leader. There has to be some uniform rule for it within the party.
"There should be some minimum criteria like submission of a charge sheet or framing of charges by court before we decide not to field a particular leader in the elections," the senior leader said. Asked whether there is a debate within the party over the issue, the leader said that the matter was definitely on the minds of party leaders, which was evident from Congress not having declared their names.
The remarks came on a day when a Special CBI court today framed charges of criminal conspiracy and corruption against Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla and nine others who were arrested in the Rs 10-crore cash-for-post railway bribery case.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, who is reportedly eyeing the Chandigarh seat, has said that the party should not get into legalities and instead "not give tickets to those who are facing even allegations of corruption".
Congress's dilemma over the issue stems from the fact that the party is trying hard to change its image while portraying its Vice President Rahul Gandhi as an anti-corruption crusader. But electoral compulsions apart, there is a also a view that leaders should not be denied a chance to contest only because of some perceptions.
The party had earlier downplayed the issue of Gandhi sharing the dais with Ashok Chavan, saying that a charge sheet or an FIR against somebody did not amount to a conviction.
A party leader said that as far as Bansal's case was concerned, there is no evidence so far of his direct involvement in the matter.
Chavan and Kalmadi are facing allegations over the Adarsh housing scam and irregularities in the Commonwealth Games, respectively.
The duo are said to be campaigning to obtain Lok Sabha poll tickets for their wives.
While Chavan has been trying to get a ticket for his wife Ameeta from Nanded, Kalmadi, who was suspended from the party, has been doing his best to get his wife Meera a ticket for the Pune Lok Sabha seat, which he currently represents in Lok Sabha.
After losing his chief minister's post in 2010 in the wake of his name cropping up in the Adarsh scam, Chavan was himself keen on contesting from the Nanded constituency.
At the AICC briefing, Singhvi also justified the Congress alliance with fodder scam convict Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD. "Is it wrong to have an alliance with a party led by somebody who has not been convicted finally, more so when none the accused are contesting polls," he said.