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Cong’s primary steps: Candidates for 16 LS seats will be elected by workers, leaders

Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 17, 2014
First Published: 02:10 IST(17/2/2014) | Last Updated: 02:20 IST(17/2/2014)

Former Trinamool Congress MP Somen Mitra and Assam social welfare minister Akon Bora’s son Manav Bora became the first two elected Congress candidates for this summer’s parliamentary polls.

While Mitra will contest the Kolkata Uttar (North) Lok Sabha seat, Bora will stand from the Gauhati constituency. The two seats are among the 16 constituencies where the Congress party is conducting US-style primaries as a pilot project for the coming general elections.

A pet project of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the new democratisation process would help open up the candidate selection system in the 128-year-old party by empowering the grassroots workers. It is meant to give Congress workers a voice in the selection of candidates and address anomalies in ticket distribution which has been a critical element of the party strategy and has repeatedly come under attack.

The experiment was successfully carried out by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly elections, forcing the Congress to revise its ticket distribution strategy for the April-May Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress had received a single nomination for the Kolkata Uttar seat – represented by Sudip Bandyopadhyay of the Trinamool Congress — from Mitra, who last month resigned as a Trinamool Congress MP. Bora was among the seven aspirants — all youths — in the fray for the Gauhati constituency, at present held by the BJP’s Bijoya Chakravorty.

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Of the 1,057 voters chosen from a representative section of party workers and leaders in Gauhati, 827 cast their secret ballot and Bora polled the highest -- 410 votes -- followed by Juri Sarma Bordoloi with 215.

“This new process will end the high command culture in the party,” said Congress general secretary Ajay Maken who offered his Lok Sabha seat – New Delhi – to be included in the list of primaries. The offer came after the party was forced to hold its earlier decision of naming the constituencies of union ministers Kapil Sibal (Chandni Chowk) and Krishna Tirath (North West Delhi) following stiff resistance to the move. Apart from Maken’s constituency, North East Delhi -- held by former Delhi Congress president Jai Prakash Agarwal -- is the second from Delhi.

Gandhi has entrusted the task of conducting primaries across the country to union health minister and senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and party secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Prakash Joshi. While Azad is known for his organisational skills, Joshi as a Youth Congress office bearer had successfully handled the first round of internal elections in the party’s youth wing.

“The new process will ensure maximum involvement of party workers in decision-making,” Joshi said. But there are also apprehensions that these primaries may eventually meet the fate of the Youth Congress and National Students’ Union of India elections in which allegations of nepotism and use of money and muscle power flew thick and fast. The polls to the youth and students’ wings were also held in the same manner.

The party has also roped in Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections (FAME), a non-governmental organisation that helps in monitoring election procedures within and outside the country, to verify the candidates’ antecedents. FAME had earlier been associated with polls in the Youth Congress and NSUI.

If successful, the Congress plans to replicate the experiment in all assembly and parliamentary elections in future.

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