The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress sets selection test

New Delhi, May 20: Congress legislators in Rajasthan could miss out on party renominations for the November Assembly polls if they fail to clear a discreet anti-incumbency test the central leadership has worked out to retain the desert state.

The exercise, already under way to assess the performance of each of the 150-plus party MLAs, is part of the block-level workers’ conventions that have been taking place since mid-April.

According to sources, grassroots workers in every constituency are being asked to give their opinion on the performance of the MLA and whether they feel the legislator would retain his seat or lose.

Chances are the sitting MLAs, who fail this assessment exercise, might find it difficult to get party tickets when the central leadership finalises its list of nominees.

The central think-tank, under AICC general secretary in charge of the state Ambika Soni, is virtually keeping state leaders away from the exercise lest they allow their likes and dislikes for individual MLAs to influence the appraisal. Indications are the exercise will be complete by the end of July.

Despite this strategy to counter any potential anti-incumbency factor, the sitting legislators might still make it to the final list if they pass another test — that of caste.

“Our success could depend as much on getting the balance of the caste factor correct as on avoiding tickets to unpopular sitting MLAs,” party sources said.

The leadership, the sources said, has gone into minute details of the caste profile of each of the 200 constituencies. “The caste profile of a constituency cannot be ignored when choosing a candidate,” they added.

Earlier this month, the central leadership had breathed easy when it became clear that the state would go to elections within the existing delimitation framework. Otherwise, it would have made the entire caste-profile data for the 200 constituencies redundant.

The importance of the caste factor has been underlined by the party’s close monitoring of the mood among Brahmins, Rajputs and Jats.

The Congress is beginning to believe that it could hurt the BJP more if it deftly handles them in the run-up to the elections.

Rajputs, who along with Brahmins constitute the backbone of the BJP’s support base, had recently disrupted a rally by BJP state chief Vasundhara Raje.

But as of now, the central leadership is more than happy that chief minister Ashok Gehlot and the rest of the state’s Congress leaders are going along with the poll strategy. Which, it seems, is not the case in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

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