The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Best faces to put best foot forward

New Delhi, Feb. 10: The Congress’s best may be fielded in the general elections as Sonia Gandhi is understood to have asked for heavyweights to be identified for the contest.

The party leadership has quietly started the shortlisting process, which includes an assessment of the prospects of the 109 sitting MPs.

The strategy of roping in big names has already triggered speculation that long-time working committee member Pranab Mukherjee might enter the fray from Bengal.

The others likely to be sounded include former chief ministers Digvijay Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Vilasrao Deshmukh.

For the Delhi seats, Rajya Sabha member Kapil Sibal and Assembly speaker Ajay Makan are being considered.

Most AICC office-bearers are also in the reckoning though some are said to be unenthusiastic about the prospects. These include general secretaries Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik, Oscar Fernandes and incumbent MP Kamal Nath as also treasurer Motilal Vora.

Sonia is also believed to have favoured fielding prominent and popular ministers from the many party-ruled states. Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna is planning to propose at least half-a-dozen of his senior ministerial colleagues.

In Punjab, too, some ministers, including deputy chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, are being mentioned.

Assam, Uttaranchal and Bihar ministers may also be enlisted.

“The idea is to ensure that we maximise the chances of winning in each seat. Ideally, we should be fielding the best available candidate. As far as possible, the party will put its best foot forward,” a party functionary said.

After the recent Assembly poll debacle, the party is sceptical of the leadership’s will to discard unpopular MPs.

Internal assessments say half-a-dozen MPs each would have to be dropped in Karnataka and Punjab and five in Assam.

Over a third of the party’s MPs in the dissolved Lok Sabha are from the three states.

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