'Why choose people from outside the state?'
Many senior leaders in the Congress's Maharashtra unit are unhappy about Imran Pratapgarhi's candidature for a Rajya Sabha seat from the state. The Congress has just one seat from Maharashtra and these leaders are upset that an outsider has been nominated for the seat.
Pratapgarhi, a poet, is chairman of the Congress's minority department. The native of Uttar Pradesh is said to be close to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her brother Rahul Gandhi, Congress general secretary and former party president respectively.
Actor-turned-politician Nagma Morarji had expressed her displeasure over Pratapgarh's nomination on Monday. Others in the state Congress unit express their discomfiture about an outsider, as young as 34, being nominated for a seat in the House of Elders in violation of the spirit of "India's federal structure".
"There is nothing against the choices made by the high command. The only thing is why choose people to represent a state in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) from outside the state?" asks a senior Congress leader from the state.
When asked about the outsider tag being attached to Pratapgarhi's candidature, this leader says, "There is no question of calling him an outsider. He is (an outsider). So are many others like Surjewala (Randeep Surjewala, a domicile of Haryana who has been, along with Maharashtra's Mukul Wasnik, nominated from Rajasthan)," he adds.
"There was a time when you could not become a regular member of the Rajya Sabha if you were not a domicile of that state. The rule was changed for Dr Manmohan Singh (who became a Rajya Sabha member from Assam) when it was decided that anybody could contest from anywhere," says another Congress leader.
This Congress leader expressed concern that this practice of nominating outsiders from states like Rajasthan (three Rajya Sabha seats) and Chhattisgarh (two Rajya Sabha seats) could hamper the party's re-election bid in these two states. These are the only two Congress-ruled states in India at present.
"The bigger concern is in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh because the aspirations of the domiciles of these two states have not been met as all the five nominees are outsiders in these states. And both are election-going states," says this second leader.
The debate in the state Congress, however, revolves around nomination of an outsider like Pratapgarhi.
"If at all Wasnik had to be nominated, he should have been nominated from Maharashtra," says the first leader.
Mukul Wasnik, a prominent Congress leader from Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, was once the youngest member of the Lok Sabha to which he was elected in December 1984 in the election following Indira Gandhi's assassination.
"Now, with him in Rajasthan, the development fund of Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) will have to be spent only in Rajasthan. Had he been a Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra he would have been in a better position to make use of these funds for the state since he knows the development issues of the state better than any outsider would. He represented the Vidarbha region several times. How could an outsider know the development issues faced by the people of Vidarbha?" argues a Congress leader from Vidarbha.
"When people come from all over the country and become members of the Rajya Sabha from any state," adds this Congress leader, "then the spirit of that federal structure is lost."
"While this is happening in every party, in the Congress it has reached an extreme. We need to sit together and decide on how to nominate members to the Rajya Sabha," he says, expressing his unhappiness over Pratapgarhi's nomination.
Talking about the resentment among many Congressmen for being left out of the Rajya Sabha race, the second Congress leader takes a dig at the party's national spokesperson Pawan Khera and his tapasya tweet.
Refusing to acknowledge Khera as a senior party leader who deserved a Rajya Sabha nomination, he says, "Pawan Khera never contested any election. He is our national spokesperson, and very effective and forceful in the way he defends the Congress and attacks the BJP. But being a spokesperson, one is not entitled to a Rajya Sabha ticket at all."
"Mr Surjewala has been a spokesperson of the party much longer than him. He (Khera) just made his narazgi (that he is upset) openly which is fine given our democratic tradition."
When asked if state Congress leaders have brought their displeasure about Pratapgarhi's nomination to the Congress high command's notice, he says, "I talk to certain people at the middle level as the high command is inaccessible."