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As Gujarat elections near, senior Congress leaders rush to douse rebel fire

Ghulam Nabi Azad, BK Hariprasad and Mukul Wasnik have been deputed to Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Surat to persuade rebel leaders to not contest the polls independently.

assembly elections Updated: Nov 23, 2017 08:02 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, New Delhi
Gujarat Elections 2017,Gujarat polls,Gujarat elections
The three senior leaders will send their reports to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who will begin campaigning in Gujarat for two days from November 24. (HT File Photo)

The Congress has sent senior leaders to Gujarat to pacify party rebels threatening to spoil its prospects in next month’s assembly polls in the state.

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and party general secretaries BK Hariprasad and Mukul Wasnik were asked to persuade the rebels not to contest the polls independently, which could erode Congress votes.

“Azad is a key trouble-shooter for the Congress. Hariprasad was in charge of Gujarat some years ago and Wasnik has few contacts there,” a senior party functionary, who didn’t want to be named, said on Wednesday. “All of them have been given the task of ensuring that the rebels withdraw their candidature before the last date of withdrawal,” he said.

Azad has been deputed to Ahmedabad, Wasnik to Surat and Hariprasad to Rajkot to douse the rebel fire.

The three will sent their reports to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who will be campaigning in Gujarat for two days from November 24.

Reports suggest at least 15 to 20 Congress rebels have filed nominations for the first phase of voting on December 9, but Congress sources said there’s only seven such candidates, of whom five are serious contenders and could spoil the party’s chances on those constituencies.

Congress rebels Paresh Kachhadiya and Nilesh Kumbhani are contesting as independents against official candidate Ashok Jirawala from Kamrej, while Kishor Chikhalia has filed his nomination papers from Maliya and Dharmesh Patel from Jalalpor.

For the Congress, ticket distribution has always been a tricky issue. In the past, the party’s calculations were upset by rebels.

As many as 25 Congress renegades, including former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin, former city mayor Himmatsinh Patel and former legislator Naresh Raval, contested in 2012 against the party’s official nominees.

The vote share gap between Congress and the BJP then was around 10% and the opposition party lost many seats by a margin of less than 5,000 votes.

Of the 89 seats going to the polls on December 9, the Congress has fielded candidates on 86 and left three for Chhotubhai Vasava’s Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP).

Vasava was instrumental in senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s victory in the August 8 Rajya Sabha elections from the state. However, its alliance talks with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) failed and Sharad Pawar’s party announced it will fight the polls alone.

Sources said the Congress also fielded three candidates, including Lalit Vasoya, from the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) of Hardik Patel. They will contest on the Congress symbol.

Of the remaining 93 seats, where voting will be held on December 14, the opposition party is expected to give five seats each to Vasava’s party and the PAAS. The strength of the Gujarat assembly is 182.

“This is part of the deal with Hardik,” another Congress leader said.

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 07:57 IST