The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress settles for Subodh
- Sonia nod helps former Union minister pull ahead

Ranchi, March 31: After nearly two weeks of intense haggling, the Congress today settled for Subodh Kant Sahay as the Ranchi parliamentary seat candidate.

The former Union minister of state for internal security and current AICC secretary carries to the contest the burden of a poll debacle in 1991 when he had contested on a Samajwadi Janata Party ticket.

However, Sahay had won the Ranchi seat in 1989 on the Janata Party ticket as the joint Opposition candidate and was inducted into the V.P. Singh ministry. After the fall of the V.P. Singh regime, Sahay switched allegiance to the Chandra Shekhar camp and was retained in the ministry.

However, the “inordinate” delay by the AICC in declaring the nominee for Ranchi is likely to add to Sahay’s woes as it exposed the sharp divisions in the faction-ridden party.

The former Union minister faces BJP stalwart Ram Tahal Choudhary who had been winning the Ranchi seat for the past five elections.

As early as on March 21, the AICC had finalised its nominees for the Lok Sabha seats of Rajmahal, Koderma, Khunti, Lohardaga, Godda, Singhbhum and Dhanbad, leaving three seats to the JMM, two to Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the lone Hazaribagh seat to the CPI.

Though the JMM had said that it would put up its candidates in two additional seats of Koderma and Rajmahal in a “friendly contest”, the AICC declared that the grand Congress-JMM-RJD alliance in Jharkhand would take on the BJP.

Congress insiders said the see-saw battle between a section of AICC leaders and Jharkhand Pradesh Congress leaders had reached such a level that the two sides had left the choice of the Ranchi nominee to AICC chief Sonia Gandhi.

Sources said that since early this month, the names of three prospective Ranchi candidates — Sahay; Gopal Sahu, the brother of former party MP S.P. Sahu; and former AICC member Roshan Lal Bhatia — had been doing the rounds.

While Bhatia was backed by AICC general secretary R.K. Dhawan, Jharkhand PCC leader Thomas Hansda and Congress legislature party leader Furkan Ansari favoured a backward caste candidate to take on Choudhary, a Mahato caste leader.

Sources said Dhawan had pleaded strongly for Bhatia, pointing out that only a non-Mahato caste candidate with a good standing could break the BJP’s grip on the Ranchi seat.

Dhawan’s logic was contested by the Jharkhand PCC duo who claimed that Gopal Sahu was best suited to contest from Ranchi.

However, the sources said, that Sonia indicated her preference for Sahay.

The first task before Sahay is to tackle detractors’ barbs that he is an “outsider”. Since his elevation into the Union ministry in 1989, Sahay had left Ranchi to virtually settle down in Delhi. Though on occasions Sahay continued to visit his hometown, the interaction was limited to family and political friends.

BJP nominee Choudhary will be trying to clinch the Ranchi seat for a record sixth time. The 3-lakh-plus Mahato votes in the seat are expected to be a strong factor.

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