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IIM professor beats Krishna in RS race

Gowda, Krishna

New Delhi, June 9: The Congress has picked 50-year-old IIM professor Rajeev Gowda over 82-year-old S.M. Krishna for a Rajya Sabha nomination, but it has let pass Nitish Kumar’s offer to back Shakeel Ahmed’s candidature.

There was widespread disapproval of the proposal to give Krishna another term, more so since he was removed from the cabinet because of age and diminishing political clout. Under pressure, Krishna’s name was removed at the last minute as other leaders thought it was time he retired gracefully.

Gowda, who did well as party spokesperson, is close to Rahul Gandhi. There was also a feeling that young professionals should be encouraged to work for the party.

There was much temptation to nominate Nandan Nilekani — he lost Bangalore South despite winning over 4,00,000 votes — to the Rajya Sabha. But there is an unwritten code against accommodating just-defeated Lok Sabha candidates in the upper House.

The Congress has picked the hardworking general secretary, B.K. Hariprasad, for the second seat from Karnataka. With 121 members in the Assembly, the Congress is assured of two seats but it has set sights on a third with support from the Janata Dal (Secular).

Both Hariprasad and Gowda had wanted to contest the general election but were denied tickets.

Denying a nomination to Krishna is bound to cause some heartburn in the party. Karnataka PCC chief G. Parameshwara said: “I do not know the reason behind the Congress high command leaving out Krishna’s name from contesting polls. But the decision has hurt me.”

What is more surprising is the way the Congress has ignored Nitish’s offer to back Ahmed’s candidature. Although Ahmed said he was “unaware of the offer”, Janata Dal (United) sources confirmed Nitish had been waiting for a response till the last minute.

Letting go a chance to strengthen the party position in the Rajya Sabha exposes the Congress’s dilemma on choice of partner in Bihar. Although the RJD is its ally at the moment, most leaders want an immediate shift to the Dal (U). They argue that Nitish could still regain his clout but Lalu Prasad would not be able to revive his party.

The Congress can bring a section of forward-caste votes to the Dal (U) plus the bulk of minority votes, which is why Nitish is keen to develop an understanding. His offer to back Ahmed could be a ploy to break the alliance with the RJD.

Lalu Prasad lobbied for a Rajya Sabha seat for wife Rabri Devi. This was impossible because the Dal (U) could not have backed her as it would have been seen as a tacit pact between the parties.

Congress sources think Sonia would not like to burn bridges with Lalu Prasad by accepting Nitish’s offer. Ahmed making the upper House with Dal (U) support would have re-written the political script in Bihar without a formal break-up with the RJD.