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January 10, 1998


Congress finds candidates tough going

George Iype in New Delhi

The Congress leadership is finding distribution of tickets for the general election tough going as hordes of Congressmen swarm the party headquarters with their "preferred constituencies."

Party hopefuls from the states have descended on the capital with their supporters. Most of them are now camped on the lawns of the Congress HQ at 24, Akbar Road while the leaders screen their credentials.

Those who fail to meet party president Sitaram Kesri with their request are crossing Akbar Road to the party's alternate power centre at 10, Janpath -- the home of Sonia Gandhi.

"I have been a loyal Congressman for the last 20 years, but Kesri has refused to nominate me. I am sure Soniaji will give me the ticket because I knew Rajivji very well," says Madan Mohan Tiwari, a Congress leader from western Uttar Pradesh.

While Tiwari and 25 of his supporters managed a two-minute audience with Sonia during her janata durbar on Friday, a dozen delegations queued up before 10, Janpath for a face-to-face with the lady on Saturday.

The Congress leadership now fears the party's inability to iron out seat adjustments with its allies in different states, squabbles between potential candidates and Sonia's involvement in distribution of tickets will considerably delay the selection of nominees.

Party sources said the final list of candidates will have to be approved by Sonia as many leaders and former MPs fear that Kesri will deny them nominations.

Some senior leaders -- K Karunakaran, P Shiv Shankar and Balram Jakhar among others -- have already approached Sonia for tickets. While Karunakaran, now a Rajya Sabha member, wants to contest the election from Thiruvananthapuram, Shankar and Jakhar hope to enter the fray from Andhra Pradesh and Punjab respectively.

"Kesri does not want to antagonise Sonia at this juncture. Therefore he will be forced to get the final clearance of candidates from 10, Janpath," a Congress leader told Rediff On The NeT.

For his part, Kesri has constituted screening committees for various states to shortlist the candidates.

Each committee has a general secretary and joint secretary in charge of the concerned state, the state Congress president, leader of the legislature party and one Congress Working Committee member nominated by Kesri.

For the last two days, the screening committees have been meeting day and night, but they have failed to clear the names of even a handful of candidates.

The CWC, which functions as the Central Election Committee during a poll, will clear the list of candidates okayed by the screening committees.

The CEC was scheduled to meet between January 6 and 12, but the meetings were postponed.

According to Congress leader Salman Khurshid, the delay in the selection of candidates is due to the unavailability of the final lists of nominees from different states.

"We are yet to receive the list of candidates from as many as 12 states," he told Rediff On The NeT.

Asked if the final list of candidates will be cleared by Sonia, Khurshid said her decision to campaign should not be interpreted as an effort to influence the party's nominations.

"The CWC is the final authority to approve all the candidates," the former Union minister of state for external affairs added.

While the Congress leadership is hamstrung by internal conflict, it is also grappling with the problems of seat adjustments in various states.

In Bihar, though the Congress has entered an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav has refused to give the party the 25 seats it wants in the state.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress's efforts to rope in Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party has been a non-starter so far. Many Congress leaders say Kesri has failed to win over Mulayam Singh whose disenchantment with the United Front is obvious every day.

However, Congress sources said Mulayam Singh will meet Sonia on Monday to decide on a seat sharing agreement in UP.

The Congress has also failed to reach a deal with Mulayam Singh in Maharashtra despite senior leader Sharad Pawar's frequent meetings with the SP leader.

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