Gujarat elections: Candidate selection will be key to Congress success | assembly elections$Gujarat 2017 | Hindustan Times
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Gujarat elections: Candidate selection will be key to Congress success

A Sonia Gandhi-led panel will chair a crucial meeting on Friday of the Central Election Committee that will decide candidates to 89 seats that go to polls on December 9.

assembly elections Updated: Nov 09, 2017 20:34 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with OBC leader Alpesh Thakor in Gandhinagar.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with OBC leader Alpesh Thakor in Gandhinagar.(HT file)

The Congress appears to be on a sticky wicket in terms of ticket distribution in Gujarat, an issue that has cost the party dear in past elections, as it gears to finalise its candidates on Friday for the first phase of assembly polls to be held on 89 seats on December 9.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi will chair the crucial meeting of the Central Election Committee or CEC that decides candidates from shortlisted contenders. Two party panels at the state level sifted through the resume of 1,500 applicants for all the 182 constituencies.

The CEC will discuss at least three names on each seat before finalising a contestant.

“This is the best chance the Congress has in Gujarat. They have to tread this path very cautiously otherwise they may lose some seats,” said political analyst Achyut Yagnik.

“Ticket distribution is an important element in any elections. Congress will need to withstand pressure from different factions and quarters,” Yagnik added.

Factionalism has been rampant in the Gujarat Congress in the past and “paratroopers”, a term loosely used for political turncoats who switch parties at the time of elections, have also ruined the Congress’ chances on many occasions.

Soon after his anointment as the Congress vice-president at Jaipur in January 2013, Rahul resolved to give block, district and state units a greater say in candidate selection. He also stated that “paratroopers, rebels, discards from other parties and outsiders” will not be accommodated in the organisation or given tickets.

But these norms have repeatedly gone for a toss with “paratroopers” in many elections given preference over party loyalists.

Take, for example, the Gujarat assembly elections in 2012 when many Congress contenders were ignored in the selection process with outsiders getting the mandate.

As many as 25 Congress rebels, including former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin, former city mayor Himmatsinh Patel and ex-legislator Naresh Raval, joined the poll fray.

Many defeated “outsiders” later dumped the Congress for the BJP.

Rajendrasinh Chavda, one of the party candidates from Himmatnagar constituency in Sabarkantha district, left the BJP to join the Congress just before the elections. He was given party ticket as well.

Rajendrasinh is the son of Ranjitsinh Chavda. who was the minister of state for cottage industries in the Narendra Modi government in 2002.

Ranjitsinh was among the 62 people named as accused by Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, in the murder of her husband along with 68 others in Gulberg society on February 28, 2002, during the anti-Muslims riots.

A year after winning the elections, Rajendrasinh deserted the Congress to rejoin the BJP.

Congress leaders, however, dismissed suggestions that the rebels will play the spoilsport in the coming polls.

“It’s a do or die situation for every Congress leader and worker in Gujarat. Everyone knows it’s abhi nahi to kabhi nahi (now or never). So, we don’t anticipate much rebel trouble this time,” party spokesperson Kailash Kumar Gadhvi said.

Keeping its flock together and restricting the number of rebels will be a daunting task for the party leadership. It has to do a fine balancing act to check the repeat of 2012.

Apart from getting the caste calculations right, the party leadership also has to resist all pressures from senior leaders seeking tickets for their relatives and loyalists.

“The Patel and Dalit agitations clearly suggest caste consciousness. So, caste has not disappeared. Who will decide the winnability?” asked Yagnik.

He said the gap between Congress and BJP was around 10% and in the last elections, the grand old party lost many seats by a margin of less than 5000 votes.

“That also, they have to keep in mind,” Yagnik said.

The nervousness among the leaders in the western state, where the party feels confident about its chances, is obvious with the D-day approaching.

“In the 2007 and 2012 elections, our calculations were upset by wrong selection of candidates. We are keeping our fingers crossed this time,” said a Gujarat Congress leader who did wish to be named.

“We hope the momentum generated by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi remains sustained till the end and the best opportunity we have this time is not squandered,” the leader added.

The real test for the Congress, however, will begin once the ticket distribution is over.

The BJP is certain to field the 12 Congress legislators who revolted against the party during the Rajya Sabha elections on August 8 this year. For its part, the Congress will re-nominate the 43 legislators who voted for Ahmed Patel as a reward for their loyalty.

“We will not be doing any favour to them. Denial of tickets to these legislators will not go down well with the people and the cadre,” said a Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.

Polling on the remaining 93 seats will be held in the second phase on December 14.