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Sonia defends Chavan ticket

New Delhi, March 26: Congress president Sonia Gandhi today defended the decision to give a Lok Sabha ticket to former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, arguing that he was not barred by law from contesting elections.

The question about Chavan was put to Rahul Gandhi in the context of allegations of corruption against the UPA government but Sonia intervened, saying: “Can I answer the question?”

“The decision has been taken by the central election committee. As far as we know, Ashok Chavan has not been barred from contesting elections by any law or the Election Commission,” she said.

Congress spokespersons have been making this point for a few days, saying there has to be a benchmark for denying somebody a ticket and that leaders cannot be punished only on the basis of allegations or perception. Suresh Kalmadi was dropped because charges have been framed against him, party leaders said.

Senior lawyer and spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi explained the party’s thinking: “Even FIR can be filed by anybody on the basis of unfounded allegations. If charges have been framed in a court of law, that person should be treated as tainted.”

Asked why the Congress had then removed Chavan as chief minister, Singhvi said: “Heading a government is different from contesting an election. The question of political morality can come if the head of the state is facing allegations.”

The Congress also asks why such yardsticks are not applied to Narendra Modi’s BJP, which is embracing leaders such as B.S. Yeddyurappa who was indicted by the state lokayukta.

Chavan, who quit as chief minister in 2010 after his name cropped up in the Adarsh Housing scam, told reporters in Nanded where he filed his nominations today that he had done “no wrong”.

Hours later, the CBI moved Bombay High Court against the special CBI court’s refusal in January to stop the criminal prosecution of Chavan in the Adarsh case. The CBI had asked to be allowed to drop his name from the FIR after Maharashtra governor K. Sankaranarayanan refused to sanction the former chief minister’s prosecution on the ground that there was not enough evidence against him. The revision petition is likely to come up in the high court tomorrow.

The question on Chavan cropped up at the programme to release the Congress manifesto, where Sonia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rahul and all top party leaders and ministers were present.

The manifesto deals with the issue of corruption exhaustively, giving details of the steps taken to strengthen the legal framework as well as the pending legislation, which were on the priority list.

Rahul also faced a questioned on the primaries he had introduced for selection of candidates, in the context of the Vadodara nominee who had come through a primary opting out in favour of Madhusudan Mistri. He said the candidate himself offered to withdraw if the party wanted to field a heavyweight against Modi.

“This (primaries) is an idea. It is designed to demonstrate that a decision on candidates can be successfully taken with inputs from a large number of people. Every party talks about involving people in the ticket distribution but nobody does it. Congress has gone forward and done it. We have to move away from the practice of very few people choosing who will represent the nation,” he said.

“It is an extremely powerful idea,” Rahul added, pointing out that candidates in 15-16 Lok Sabha seats were chosen by over 12,000 party workers. “It is true that there are shortcomings in the process but it must be seen as an idea and not a process... there will be issues in one or two seats but these are the things that will come up in any new process. This is something we will carry out.”

Several senior leaders are opposed to the idea and many sitting MPs objected to the inclusion of their seats in the primaries.