If loyalty played an important role in drawing up the Rajya Sabha nominees, political compulsions were also a factor, reports Anita Katyal.
The list of candidates picked by the Congress for the upcoming biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha indicates that realpolitik and loyalty were key factors in deciding the names even as the leadership prepares for a post-poll scenario when the grand old party could well be headed for a stint in the opposition.
It is also evident that Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul have chosen their respective favourites in an effort to strengthen the party's presence in the Upper House.
If loyalty played an important role in drawing up the Rajya Sabha nominees, political compulsions were also a factor.
Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who was tipped to get a Rajya Sabha berth either from Himachal Pradesh or Haryana, lost out primarily because the party did not want to invite any controversy. The newly elected Aam Admi Party has threatened to re-open corruption cases related to the Commonwealth Games, which could implicate Dikshit. The Congress obviously did not want to invite the charge that it is shielding the corrupt.
Rahul’s choice was reflected in the nomination of All India Congress Committee general secretaries Madhusudan Mistry (Gujarat) and Digivjaya Singh (Madhya Pradesh). Both Mistry and Singh have been working closely with the Nehru-Gandhi scion. On the other hand, veteran leader Murli Deora, AICC treasurer Motilal Vora and Union minister Kumari Selja are clearly Sonia’s choices, as they are known party loyalists.
Mistry, who is currently in charge of the electorally important state of Uttar Pradesh, heads the party’s powerful central election committee and has been entrusted by Rahul to identify candidates for the upcoming general election.
Unlike Mistry, Digvijaya is no longer in Rahul’s close circle of advisers. Nevertheless, he is overseeing the publicity campaign for the coming Lok Sabha polls and is a member of the Rahul-headed coordination committee, which is strategising for these elections.
At a time when the Congress numbers in the Upper House are set to dwindle in the coming months, the party can do with senior and strong speakers.
Digvijaya was the Madhya Pradesh chief minister when the party was crushed in the 2003 assembly polls. He had then taken a vow to not contest elections for the next 10 years. However, the former CM created a niche for himself over the past decade as the party’s general secretary.
While Digvijaya’s political acumen ensured his membership in every important party committee, the former MP CM has never hesitated to speak out on controversial issues, often landing himself and the party in trouble.
There had been a lot of buzz in Congress circles lately that Digvijaya was keen to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections either from Rajgarh or Indore since his 10 years of self-imposed exile from electoral politics have ended.
His nomination to the Rajya Sabha, therefore, came as a surprise. In addition to boosting the party’s presence in the Upper House, Digvijaya’s elevation will also ensure that the senior leader does not meddle in Madhya Pradesh state politics in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. The MP Congress is a faction-ridden unit with Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia constantly battling each other.
As it is, the party high command has reduced Digvijaya’s clout in Madhya Pradesh. His protégé Kantilal Bhuria was removed as president of the party’s state unit and replaced by former Union Minister Arun Yadav, whose father Subhash Yadav, was a well-known Digvijaya-baiter.
Similarly, Singh’s other loyalist Ajay Singh was dethroned as the Congress Legislature Party leader with Satyadev Katare being entrusted with this responsibility. Both the new appointees are known to be close to Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Besides other factors, the Congress leadership was obviously mindful of the coming general elections when it drew up its list of Rajya Sabha nominees. In a surprise move, Lok Sabha MP from Sultanpur Sanjay Singh has been nominated to the Upper House from Assam. Similarly, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Selja, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from Ambala, has been moved to the Rajya Sabha.
Unhappy at being sidelined, Sanjay Singh had been sending out signals about crossing over to the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Samajwadi Party. Since Sultanpur is located close to Sonia and Rahul’s Lok Sabha constituencies, Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively, the Congress leadership could ill-afford to antagonise Sanjay Singh as he could have created problems for the Gandhis in the upcoming polls.
As it is, Rahul has a battle on hand after the Aam Aadmi Party has hinted it would field the popular Hindi poet Kumar Vishwas from Amethi while estranged cousin Varun Gandhi is said to be the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Sultanpur. The party has consequently bought peace with the Thakur leader by giving Sanjay Singh a six-year-term in the Upper House.
Selja’s move to the Rajya Sabha is a fallout of the ongoing bitter infighting in the Haryana Congress. Selja and Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda have been battling each other in public for several months now and it appeared that their rivalry would pull down the party in the Lok Sabha polls.
It was also clear that Hooda was all set to sabotage her election to ensure a defeat. Given all these factors, the Congress leadership thought it better to nominate Selja to the Upper House. Besides being extremely fond of Selja, Sonia also wants to project the young minister as the party’s Dalit face.
If Selja was nominated to the Rajya Sabha to avoid a face-off between party rivals in Haryana, the Congress decided to renominate Murli Deora and Hussain Dalwai from Maharashtra as it did not want to rock the boat in the faction-ridden state unit.
Deora is known to be close to the Gandhi family and is well networked in Mumbai. Dalwai was picked for a second term as he has been instrumental in reaching out to the Muslim community in Maharashtra and is reputed to be a liberal, progressive minority leader. Had the Congress opted for new faces, it would have only ended up inviting flak from the state unit.