The Congress on Tuesday nominated former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan – whose name figured in the Adarsh housing society scam – from Nanded, ignoring opposition from within the party on fielding 'tainted' leaders.
Party general secretary Madhusudan Mistry – a confidante of Rahul Gandhi - was named to take on BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Vadodara in Gujarat.
The list of 12, however, kept up suspense on the candidate from Varanasi that is witnessing a high-voltage contest between Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. It is speculated that party general secretary Digvijaya Singh could be fielded from the temple town.
Ravneet Singh Bittu – who made way for senior leader Ambika Soni in Anandpur Sahib – got the ticket from Ludhiana, where sitting MP and information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari opted out of the poll race on health grounds.
The Congress has flip-flopped on fielding 'tainted' leaders in the face of tough general elections this summer. The party named former railway minister Pawan Bansal – who resigned after the cash-for-posts railways scam involving his nephew— and Subodh Kant Sahai – whose name was involved in Coalgate scam – but left out Suresh Kalmadi, chargesheeted in the Commonwealth Games scam.
Chavan was asked to step down as Maharashtra CM in 2010 after his name figured in the Mumbai's Adarsh housing society scam. Congress sources, however, insist he didn't misuse power by granting membership to civilians or by allotting defence land to the society.
The only objection, a party functionary said, was that he granted Adarsh membership to his relatives.
Another important factor influencing his rehabilitation was his stature as a powerful Maratha leader. The Congress didn't have a strong leader from the Marathwada region since former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh's death in 2012.
Earlier in the day, Chavan's wife Ameeta filed nomination papers as a "dummy" candidate" from Nanded, where sitting MP and Chavan's brother-in-law Bhaskarrao Patil has withdrawn from the race.
The party's choice for Vadodara – Madhusudan Mistry – is a backward-caste leader like Modi. He replaces Narendra Kumar Rawat who won the 'primary' held for the seat on March 13.
Having lost the 2009 elections from Sabarkantha, Mistry was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. "This was the moment I was waiting for years," he said. "I am very confident that I will defeat Modi."
The BJP was quick to react with party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi saying, "A Dalit candidate has been replaced after he was chosen by Rahul Gandhi's pet primary-style selection, which has now died an infant's death. It is clear that the Congress is back to one family deciding candidates."
Following Rahul Gandhi's intervention, the party also abandoned plans to field former Punjab CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal in place of sitting MP Vijay Inder Singla from Sangrur. Bhattal, sources said, was reluctant to fight the polls since she had done no groundwork in the constituency for a long time.
The Congress also named Vasundhara Kumari, wife of a sitting BJP legislator Jay Pratap Singh, from Domariyaganj in Uttar Pradesh. She will be facing sitting MP Jagdambika Pal, who recently quit the Congress to join the BJP.