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Congress must bet on the winning horse

If the Congress High Command can ensure that winnability of candidates alone matters, half the battle will have been won at the outset, writes Pankaj Vohra.
Hindustan Times | By Pankaj Vohra
UPDATED ON MAR 02, 2009 01:25 AM IST

That the Congress is its own worst enemy is something we have all known after watching the party lose the polls in states where it was on top. Many senior party leaders whose actions or lack of understanding resulted in these defeats got away scot-free. They were not held accountable for their lapses. In fact, many of them were rewarded with additional responsibilities.

But, now it appears that all this may change. Party president Sonia Gandhi’s observation at the Parliamentary Party meeting last week underlining the threat to the Congress from within sounded both a note of caution and a warning for trouble-makers. Having brought the party to power at the Centre after winning 16 states (and subsequently losing most of them), Ms Gandhi is in a combative mood. She has made it clear that dissidence will not be tolerated.

Ms Gandhi’s determination and resolve has carried the party through many of its battles. However, lesser minions have created problems in the party by misusing her name in order to ensure that their importance is not diminished. Most of these people are officer-bearers or in charge of states they know little about. They need to be firmly controlled if the party has to fare well. These people with their limited influence but colossal egos have sacrificed the interests of the party at the altar of their vested interests.

Therefore, Ms Gandhi has to ensure that the only criteria, which must be used for selecting candidates, should be that of winnability. Performing well in the Lok Sabha polls must be the objective. There should be no bar, for instance, on MLAs or Rajya Sabha MPs contesting. If the candidate with a winning chance is just a corporator or a loyal party activist, he or she must be selected overriding the whims and fancies of a few leaders who will want quotas to be allotted to them for the final selection. If the Congress High Command can ensure that winnability alone matters, half the battle will have been won at the outset. For this, the state leadership must be strengthened.

In Punjab, a state where the party is likely to do very well, barring MLAs from contesting some seats like Amritsar could have an adverse impact on its chances. If Ms Gandhi’s observations are followed in letter and spirit, the decision on whom to field should be left to Captain Amarinder Singh who has been the face of the party in the state. Of course, the final selection should have the approval of Ms Gandhi.

In Haryana, attempts from within are already on to destabilise Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda whose record has been exemplary so far. Very few people know that Haryana has attracted more investment than even Gujarat. It has overtaken Punjab in GDP and is second only to Goa. At a meeting last week, two senior leaders — Shamsher Singh Surjewala and Birendra Singh (perhaps at the behest of some senior leader) -- suggested that the assembly polls due in March next year should be held simultaneously with the Parliamentary polls. The objective was not as much to strengthen the party as to weaken Hooda. These machinations must end now.

In Mumbai, a criterion is sought to be imposed which bars the Mumbai Pradesh Chief Kirpa Shankar Singh from contesting the polls on the plea that he must ensure the victory of all others. Everyone knows that Gurudas Kamat and Murli Deora as MPCC presidents have contested Lok Sabha polls in the past. This is possible in a city like Mumbai that has six seats. The North West Mumbai seat, which has many people from Eastern UP and Bihar, is most suitable for some one like Kirpa. This would send out an appropriate message to the likes of Raj Thackeray. It will also give the Congress a leg up in the city.

The party has a record of framing different criteria for different people. It does not have a single principle which would apply to everyone. There are ministers like Saifuddin Soz and Pranab Mukherjee who also head state units. There are others like AK Antony, Prithviraj Chavan and V. Narayanswamy who are also in charge of states. There are many other examples.

What is interesting about these polls is that while the Congress looks strong, its allies in the UPA appear weak. In the NDA, the BJP is appears weak while its allies seem strong. That is why the formation of the next government is dependent on post-poll tie-ups.

To leverage the Congress into a stronger position, its leaders must stand behind Ms Gandhi in no uncertain terms. Otherwise, they might well find themselves sitting on the opposition benches. Between us

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