The Telegraph
Thursday , February 20 , 2014
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Dissent over Cong ‘safe-seat’ pitch

New Delhi, Feb. 19: As the process to select candidates for the Lok Sabha elections began with the first meeting of the central election committee on Monday, the unease within the Congress over the grim prospects surfaced in different forms.

Murmurs of dissent are being heard in different quarters over the tendency of senior leaders to either manage a Rajya Sabha nomination or contest from safe seats. This issue is being debated by a large number of leaders. “Let those who claim to be managing the party for so many years come out in the field and fight a Lok Sabha election,” said a senior leader who has won several elections.

Asked if he could be quoted on record, the MP said: “You want me to lose my primary membership? These leaders who do not fight elections are very powerful.”

Not everybody is so scared. “This election is very important for the Congress and the country. Every senior leader should contribute and the tendency to look for safe seats should be discouraged,” former MP from Madhya Pradesh Aslam Sher Khan told The Telegraph.

“In Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath should not confine himself to his pocket borough Chhindwara. He can get anybody elected from that seat. He should come to Jabalpur as this bold decision will affect the entire Mahakaushal region and we will win three-four additional seats. Similarly, if Jyotiraditya Scindia fights (from) Vidisha and Digvijaya Singh contests (from) Indore, there will be panic in the BJP and the whole election scenario will change. It is sad a leader like Digvijaya opted for the Rajya Sabha,” Khan said.

This radical idea coming from a known dissident would be viewed as a cry in the wilderness but the “safe-seat” syndrome has triggered a fierce debate within the party.

Sources revealed that information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari has been lobbying for the Chandigarh seat, which is seen as a Congress fief, because his constituency, Ludhiana, has become extremely difficult this time.

Former railway minister Pawan Bansal is deeply entrenched in Chandigarh, winning four consecutive terms, but Tewari has spotted an opening in the wake of controversies that dogged his senior colleague.

The “safe-seat” fascination has affected even those who are considered mass leaders. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, former chief minister Ajit Jogi, who has been offered Bilaspur, is determined to accept any other constituency.

Sources said Jogi has conveyed to the high command that around two lakh poor people, mostly his voters, migrate to other states from Bilaspur in search of a livelihood in summer, so he would prefer to contest from any constituency among the other 10.

The buzz is he has set his sights on Korba, which is held by Union minister Charan Das Mahant, the lone Congress MP to have won in 2009 from Chhattisgarh.

Korba is a Congress fortress but Jogi won’t be obliged as dislodging the sitting MP makes little political sense.

It is known that Moradabad MP Mohammed Azharuddin has already asked for a “safe seat”, while others like Raj Babbar and Kapil Sibal are looking for a change of constituency.

The central election committee in its first meeting took up only those constituencies where the party lost in 2009. These include 27 in Uttar Pradesh, 19 in Karnataka, 11 in Odisha, seven in Jharkhand, 10 in Chhattisgarh, three in Himachal and two in Tripura.

There were brief discussions on some seats, prompting members to suspect the real decisions would be taken somewhere else, probably based on survey inputs that Rahul Gandhi has received over the past few months.

The first list of candidates is expected to be out within the next few days.