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Ministers’ pique prunes Cong primary list

New Delhi/Calcutta, Jan. 31: Rahul Gandhi’s planned experiment of choosing some Lok Sabha candidates through primaries evoked the first protests today, with two MPs forcing the party to drop their constituencies from the original list of 16.

Both these seats are in Delhi. While one is Chandni Chowk, represented by Union minister Kapil Sibal, the other is North West Delhi, held by Dalit leader and minister Krishna Tirath.

Sources said Sibal and Tirath were upset because they saw the decision to hold primaries in their constituencies as a vote of no-confidence in their performance.

Most of the remaining 14 seats are held by other parties, except for Mandsaur, held by Rahul aide Meenakshi Natarajan, and Jhunjhunu, now vacant following the death of veteran Jat leader Sisram Ola of the Congress.

Holding primaries does not necessarily mean the sitting MPs would be excluded, but their fates will be decided by party office-bearers and members of frontal organisations.

Party general secretary and Mumbai MP Gurudas Kamat, however, has offered his seat up for a primary.

Calcutta North is counted among the most prestigious seats in Bengal and is represented by Trinamul’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay.

It had in its earlier avatars been represented by stalwarts such as the physicist Meghnad Saha (as an Independent), Hiren Mukherjee (CPI), Ashoke Sen (Congress) and Ajit Panja (Congress and Trinamul).

The seat came into being after the two parliamentary seats of Calcutta North West and Calcutta North East were merged during the delimitation process that began in 2006.

It is made up of the Assembly segments of Chowringhee, Entally, Beliaghata, Jorasanko, Shyampukur, Maniktala and Kashipur-Belgachhia. Its electorate of 13 lakh includes a large section of the traders of central Calcutta, slum dwellers from parts of Sealdah, Rajabazar and Belgachhia, and residents of the Chowringhee high-rises.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the seat witnessed one of the state’s most keenly watched contests, between then incumbent Mohammad Salim of the CPM and Sudip.

At the state Congress office today, the process of electing candidates through primaries was explained by two politicians sent by Rahul: Uttarakhand’s Rachhpal Singh Bisht and Andhra Pradesh lawmaker Rudraraju Padmaraju.

“There was no particular reason for including the Calcutta North seat among those selected for the experiment. As Rahulji wishes, party workers will decide the candidate,” Bisht said.

One of the strongest contenders for the Congress ticket from the seat is former state unit chief Somen Mitra, who has returned to the party after resigning as Trinamul MP from Diamond Harbour.

Asked whether he would run for the primary, Mitra said: “I don’t know much about the process. I shall have to think about it.”