The criteria set by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to select candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections is causing many leaders and the cadre to shiver.
The rout in four state assembly elections last month has prompted Rahul to field a maximum number of fresh faces that are active in the constituencies and who are unlikley to face an anti-incumbency wave unlike the sitting MPs, party sources said.
In a bid to refurbish the grand old party, Rahul wants those candidates who are rooted in ground realities to get tickets and not those who have shifted with their families to Delhi or to state capitals, according to sources. He feels that those who have shifted form their ancestral homes cannot be said to have live contact with the people, said sources. The Congress screening committees have therefore been told to evaluate the performance of sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) before considering them for 2014 tickets.
This criteria has cast a shadow on the political future of some 100 Lok Sabha MPs from the Congress. The sensitivity of the matter can be gauged from the fact that many Congress leaders declined to speak to dna on the subject.
Rahul has told the chairpersons of the just-appointed screening committees not to wait utill the last few days of the nomination deadline to announce the names of candidates (as is the usual party practice to stamp out rebellion). This is why, perhaps for the first time in its history, the Congress will finalise candidate selection for about 500 Lok Sabha seats three months ahead in advance i.e. by February end. The announcement of candidates will likely coincide with the launch of the Congress’ Rs 500 crore advertisement blitzkrieg.
Accordingly, the screening committees will choose three names for each constituency from two lists — one prepared by 400 observers, fanned out across the country over the last six months, and another from the set of names sent by the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs). Sources close to Rahul’s aide Madhusudan Mistry, who had supervised 400 observers, said “winnability” will be a principal factor in the selection of candidates.
“Our effort is to come out with the first list of the Lok Sabha candidates by the first fortnight of February. General secretaries in-charge and senior party leaders from states will compare the two lists and submit them to the screening committees for scrutinising the names and send recommendations to the central election committee by January end,” a party leader said on condition of anonymity.
As an experiment, candidates for 15 Lok Sabha constituencies in 10 states will be selected through a referendum of district and block level party workers and village pradhans. Among these 15 constituencies are Dhule and Aurangabad in Maharashtra (won by BJP and Shiv Sena respectively in 2009), Vadodara and Bhavnagar in Gujarat (won by BJP in 2009), Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan (won by Congress’ Sees Ram Ola, who died last month), Indore and Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh (won by BJP and Congress respectively in 2009). Of the remaining, two constituencies each are from Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, and one constituency each from Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Sources close to Rahul said that if this experiment is suceeds, the referendum method of selecting candidates will apply in all the forthcoming elections.
The referendum method was first used by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for the Delhi assembly elections. In its debut election, AAP won 28 of 70 seats, following which Rahul had commented that the Congress needs to learn lessons from AAP’s victory. Taking another cue from AAP, Rahul has asked screening committee heads to finalise guidelines for candidates, including less dependence on public meetings, but more door-to-door campaigns in candidates’ localities to gather names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of residents so candidates can remain in touch with them ‘live’.