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Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times
April 13, 2009
The Congress will have itself to blame if it is unable to form the next government. The manner in which some of the tickets for the Parliamentary elections have been distributed has once again raised serious questions over how a few of the Congress president’s advisers were able to push for their favourites. Under normal circumstances, this would not have become a talking point. But, it has since the same thing happened when tickets for the state assemblies and Rajya Sabha were handed out.

Some of the advisers may hide behind the smokescreen that the Congress president herself cleared the final list. But the truth is that an accurate picture of the consequences of certain tickets being cleared has not been given to her. Sonia Gandhi has singularly brought the Congress this far. Her eventful 10-year political journey has seen the party come to power in as many as 16 states and at the Centre.

In 2004, the verdict was clearly in her favour. Yet, in an unparalleled move, she shunned power in what was the first instance of sacrifice by a political stalwart. Instead she chose Dr Manmohan Singh to head the government. Together with allies, the UPA was able to complete its full five-year term. But thanks to this coterie, the party has been losing power in several states. Today, there are doubts whether the Congress will be able to come to power at the Centre.

It is obvious that many advisers have been taking undue advantage of the trust reposed in them by Ms Gandhi, interpreting this as licence to make or break political careers. There are several instances where people who were opposed to the Congress ideology were encouraged to join the party and given tickets. The explanation was that the Congress must expand its base and induct fresh blood.

If some of these entrants were young political aspirants, such a reason would have been valid. But the chosen ones were full-fledged members of other political parties earlier. The reverse logic could have been that when these people were not loyal to their original ideology, how could the Congress expect them to be loyal to it. The truth is that some of the advisers are uncomfortable with traditional Congressmen who are well-acquainted with their abilities and could expose them before the Congress chief if given a chance. Therefore, all attempts are made by these advisers to deny them access to their president. Instead a new breed of ``harmless’’ newcomers is being encouraged.

These advisers are known in political circles as ticketless travelers who would have trouble winning even a municipal seat. But they are determining who should get party tickets. In the process, many criteria  followed by the party in the past have been done away with. It is common knowledge that guidelines are drawn up to help favourites.

For instance, it was stated that Pradesh presidents should not contest elections since they have to oversee the conduct of polls in their respective states. It was implemented in the case of Kirpa Shankar Singh in Mumbai but not for M.S. Kaypee in Punjab and in Rajasthan and West Bengal.

Margaret Alva, as general secretary of the party, accused some of her colleagues of taking money for tickets during the assembly polls. She has been given a party ticket now. The moral of the story seems to be that if you accuse the party, you get a ticket. Then, wonder why Natwar Singh was left out.

In many other states, leaders have managed to get two or three tickets for their family members. However, veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh who wanted his daughter or son to contest on the party ticket from Madhya Pradesh has been left high and dry. The development may adversely affect the party in the state where it lost the last assembly polls due to faction fights.

In Rajasthan and neighbouring Haryana, the situation is similar. The Bhiwani ticket for Bansi Lal’s granddaughter has surprised many. The party has been liberal with Ajit Jogi and Amarinder Singh.

In Delhi, there should have been no tearing hurry to announce the candidates so early. Both Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler would have been at peace with themselves if they had been denied tickets in the first place. By changing horse mid-stream, the Congress has put the BJP back into the contest in the Capital.

The party should consider itself lucky if it gets to its present strength in the Lok Sabha. It could have done better. But then, it appears that the ghost of Sitaram Kesri has come back to haunt it. Many close to the former party president continue to call the shots even now. Between us.