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Assam polls: Did PM influence Congress candidates' list?

March 16, 2011 00:28 IST

The list of Congress candidates from Assam is likely to be reviewed following pressure from state party leaders. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh may have played favourites during the selection, reports Renu Mittal. 

Among the 22 new faces that found a place in the Congress party's first list of 118 candidates for the upcoming Assam Assembly elections the most prominent is Debabrata Saikia, the eldest son of former Assam chief minister Hiteswar Saikia.

However, Debabrata's selection has now created cracks within the party. While most Congress leaders felt he did not deserve a ticket, his name appeared in the list because he received the support of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and another Rajya Sabha member of Parliament from Assam. Other Congress leaders objected to Debabrata's candidature since his name appears in a Central Bureau of Investigation chargesheet on a multi-crore letter of credit scam.

Keeping his long-time friendship with the former Assam CM, Dr Singh insisted at the Central Election Committee meeting that Debabrata should be given a ticket.

The Congress leadership from Assam was pushing for the candidature of Hemoprova Saikia, Debabrata's mother even though she had made it clear that she was not interested in contesting the polls. Sources say she met Dr Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi explaining her son's case.

At the CEC meet, the PM took up for Debabrata and insisted that he should be given a ticket. This despite a senior leader mentioning that if Debabrata contested it would create problems in the state and the Opposition would exploit the matter. However, Dr Singh did not budge till Debabrata's name was added to the list of candidates, say insiders. He will now replace his mother Hemoprova in the Nazira constituency.

But Debabrata's is not an isolated case. The PM recommended that daughter of Rashidul Haque should also be given a ticket to contest the Assam elections. It may be recalled that Dr Singh helped Haque get a Rajya Sabha ticket earlier.   

The PM raised the issue at the CEC meet and said that Haque's daughter should be allowed to contest from the Jamunamukh constituency. But this created uproar within the party since this constituency belonged to Assam Pradesh Mahila Congress Sarifa Begum. Finally, the PM had his way and Begum lost out on nomination.

However, Sonia Gandhi stepped in and asked All India Congress Committee General Secretary Digvijay Singh, who is in-charge of the party in the state, that Begum should be given another constituency.   

It is learnt that some of the seats are now being reviewed and Begum is likely to get the neighbouring Dhing constituency from where the already announced candidate would be dropped, creating a new rebel.

Dr Singh was not the only one playing favourites. Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi was also pushing for a candidate, who party insiders say was not suitable.         

Rahul Gandhi wanted Nissar Khan to be given the ticket from Guwahati west, but the CEC was not convinced. At the meet, both Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Assam PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita objected to Khan's candidature.

In the Guwahati west constituency, there are only 40,000 Muslims among a population of 2.5 lakh people. Congress leaders from Assam argued that Khan would have little chances of winning since majority of the population comprised middle-class Hindus. Moreover, the selection of Khan would also have a ripple effect on neighbouring constituencies, the leaders said.

Sources said that the CEC including the Congress president were convinced by the arguments of the state leaders and decided not to give Khan a ticket.

A senior leader expressing his bewilderment at the manner in which tickets were being distributed, said that in a state which was facing heavy anti- incumbency and where the party had to be extra careful in selecting candidates, it was shocking how the Congress leadership, including Rahul Gandhi and his team were recommending candidates without doing their homework.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi