With the Aam Admi Party rewriting the rules of the game in politics, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi plans to take a cue from it by dropping undeserving sitting MPs and fielding fresh new faces in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Anita Katyal reports
The Congress has, so far, followed an unwritten convention of re-nominating sitting legislators and members of Parliament in order to avoid a rebellion in the party on election-eve.
There is strong resistance from vested interests when the party attempts to drop incumbent candidates. Consequently, “sitting getting” has become a norm in the Congress.
This is exactly what happened in the recently-concluded assembly elections. Very few changes were made in the list of candidates as most sitting legislators were re-nominated under pressure of state leaders.
However, the success of the debutant AAP, which rode to power by fielding newcomers, has forced the Congress to take a hard look at this policy.
“Not only do we need to make large-scale changes in the list of sitting MPs, we should also change the profile of our candidates, especially in the urban constituencies,” a senior Congress leader told rediff.com.
The Delhi election, he said, showed that the urban voter has now come into his own and is looking for new , clean and professionally qualified candidates who are not weighed down with the baggage of a political party.
“The disillusionment with the political class is far more pronounced in the urban centers…. the voter here prefers an apolitical candidate,” said a senior Congress office bearer, adding that the party has to hunt for a new kind of a candidate.
It is for this reason that the Congress has zeroed in former Infosys boss Nandan Nilekani for the South Bangalore constituency which is dominated by IT professionals. There is a growing realisation in the Congress that it should rope in more candidates such as Nilekani who hold a special appeal for the urban voter.
Congress strategists maintained the party should resist pressures from its regional satraps and senior leaders in its selection of candidates and go strictly by merit. “In fact, Rahul also wants to change the process of picking candidates but he is facing stiff opposition from the old guard in the party,” a Congress leader told rediff.com.
He went as far as to say that there are strong similarities between how Rahul and Arvind Kejriwal view politics and the changes they want to usher in. “The difference is that Kejriwal started with a clean slate while Rahul has to cope with a 128-year-old history,” the Congress leader added.
In fact, when Rahul was elevated as Congress vice-president earlier this year, he had promised to change the party organisation, particularly the system of candidate selection.
While underlining that block and district level leaders would be duly consulted in choosing candidates, Rahul Gandhi had told the Jaipur meeting:
"When it comes to ticket distribution, the district presidents are not asked, the organisation is not consulted, the decision on who should get a ticket is taken at the top. What happens then? Leaders from other parties come right before the elections, lose the election and then return to their party. And what does our loyal party worker say? He looks up and sees a leader from another party parachuting in, losing the election and flying off in an aero plane. We have to change this," he had declared.
As it happened, Rahul failed to deliver on his promise in the recent assembly elections as he succumbed to the usual pulls and pressures exerted by the old guard. But now that the party has been taught a bitter lesson in the recent assembly polls, it is hoped that Rahul will succeed in implementing these changes.
For instance, Rahul has always maintained that candidates must be declared six months before the Lok Sabha poll so that contestants have sufficient time to prepare for their election. Although he failed to enforce his own decision in the recent assembly elections, Rahul wants to declare the names of at least 150 Lok Sabha candidates by next month.
He has even asked All India Congress Committee general secretary Madhusudan Mistry to travel to the states and prepare a list of candidates for the 2014 general election. In addition, he has put in place an elaborate procedure of getting feedback from state unit chiefs as well as district and block level leaders on “winnable” candidates.
While Rahul may be able to push through the much-needed reforms in the party after its humiliating defeat in the assembly polls, he now faces a fresh challenge. The Congress may find it difficult to attract the kind of candidates it is looking for as the AAP is being viewed as a preferred destination for fresh entrants to politics, especially in the urban centers.
Given the present state of affairs, Congress leaders privately admitted that none if its seven Lok Sabha candidates in Delhi can hope to get re-elected.
“Even if we want to field fresh faces, the big question is: will people be willing to join us,” asked a glum-faced Congress leader.