Patna, March 21: The Congress has changed its candidates for three Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in an apparent bid to dispel the perception that the party had fielded “lightweight” candidates against “heavyweights” from the BJP-led alliance.
The grand old party replaced Rajkumar Rajan with Kunal Singh, a Bhojpuri film actor and son of former Congress veteran Buddha Dev Singh, in the prestigious Patna Sahib seat. Kunal will challenge actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who will battle it out to retain the seat for the second term as the BJP nominee.
The party has also changed its candidates for the Hajipur and Gopalganj seats. While former minister and senior Congress leader Sanjeev Prasad Toni has replaced Pratima Kumari in Hajipur seat to take on LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and sitting JD(U) MP Ram Sunder Das, Purnamasi Ram has replaced Dilip Majhi for Gopalganj seat.
The party had earlier fielded Purnamasi — a sitting JD(U) MP from Gopalganj — on the Valmikinagar seat. Purnamasi had left the JD(U). He joined the Congress recently bagging a ticket.
With Purnamasi now shifted to Gopalganj, the Valmikinagar seat is yet to have a Congress candidate in the fray.
Sources said the party would decide on a candidate for Valmikinagar shortly. The grapevine has it that former IAS officer and secretary in the Union petroleum ministry, R.S. Pandey, who was denied a BJP ticket for the seat, was lobbying for a Congress’s ticket from Valmiki Nagar.
The Congress media in-charge, Premchand Mishra, said: “The party high command changed the candidates on the three seats in pursuit of a better choice against its rivals.”
Insiders, however, said the party had fielded Pratima Kumari — a niece-in-law of Ram Sunder Das — on the perception that the JD(U) would not field its ageing warhorse (Das) in Hajipur.
“Once the Congress found Das — also a former chief minister and sitting MP — in the fray, it found it appropriate to replace his relative with Toni, considered capable of matching the might of Paswan and Das,” a Congress leader said.
Similarly, there was no clarity on the BJP fielding Shatrughan Sinha in the BJP on the Patna Sahib seat till the end.
“The Congress has replaced a little-known Rajkumar Rajan by Kunal to match the BJP’s star power on the Patna Sahib seat,” the leader said.
Sources said Purnamasi, a Scheduled Caste leader, who had initially shown the inclination to contest Valmikinagar — a general seat — changed his preference to Gopalganj that he had won in 2009. The party acceded to his request allotting him the Gopalganj seat, sources said.