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Cong fields stars, sticks by veterans

- Party stops short of unsettling entrenched forces

New Delhi, March 8: The Congress leadership has played safe by retaining most sitting MPs and veteran leaders in its first list of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections even though Rahul Gandhi tried to push new, young faces in some constituencies.

About a third of the 194 candidates announced today were young, along with an interesting mix of celebrities.

Nandan Nilekani, Infosys co-founder and the man behind the Aadhaar card, has been fielded from Bangalore South as expected.

“I’m joining Congress tomorrow,” Nilekani said in Bangalore before the list was released. “If they give me Bangalore South, I will be happy to take it. I’m confident that people will vote for me,” PTI quoted him as saying.

The inclusion of cricketer Mohammed Kaif, Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kishen, Odia actress Aparajita Mohanty and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla generated curiosity.

Kaif, a former India batsman who now plays in the Uttar Pradesh Ranji team, has been fielded from Jawaharlal Nehru’s seat of Phulpur.

The list also set at rest speculation that Sonia Gandhi might not contest this time. The Congress president has been renominated from Rae Bareli, and her son Rahul from Amethi.

Veterans Kamal Nath, Mallikarjun Kharge, Shankersinh Vaghela, Vilas Muttemwar and Girija Vyas have also been renominated along with young guns Jitin Prasada, Priya Dutt, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Arun Yadav and Milind Deora.

In Chhattisgarh, candidates for 10 of the 11 seats have been named but former chief minister Ajit Jogi is not among them.

Jogi wanted to contest from any seat other than Bilaspur, which was initially earmarked for him. Bilaspur has now gone to Karuna Shukla, who joined the Congress a few days ago.

If Jogi is not given a ticket from the lone constituency left to be decided, there could be a crisis in the party’s state unit. He had been eyeing the Korba seat, where sitting MP Charan Das Mahant has been retained.

In Bengal, every sitting MP has been renominated.

Sources said there were attempts initially to change a large number of candidates but in the end the party could not muster the courage. Madhusudan Mistry, who conducted an elaborate exercise nationwide to find winnable candidates, was frustrated because his findings were not given due importance, the sources said.

One leader told The Telegraph: “We know certain candidates are bound to lose but the party is not in a position to disturb the entrenched forces. We would have liked to field at least 50 per cent new candidates but the risk was enormous.”


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