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Finally! Political parties frantically search for 'honest' candidates

By Upasna Pandey
February 26, 2014 10:25 IST
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Like the Hindi film industry, where formulas for hit films are done to death, the political fraternity in India is making an all out effort to ‘re-brand’ itself to follow the hit script of the AAP, says Upasna Pandey

Honesty, they say, is the best policy.

In the 2014 election season, political parties are looking for ‘honest’ candidates as a matter of policy, but in a democracy where winning is the only thing that matters, honest and winnable candidates are the flavour of the season.

With the overwhelming response to Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal movement and the success of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi assembly elections, all major political parties are hoping to ride the `honesty’ wave.

The AAP was the first outfit to use the ‘honesty’ differentiator in the 2013 assembly elections and the party’s success has compelled other parties to consider this strategy.

Like the Hindi film industry, where formulas for hit films are done to death, the political fraternity in India is making an all out effort to ‘re-brand’ itself to follow the hit script of the AAP.

With activist Anna Hazare publicly declaring his support for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, every political party is today frantically searching for `honest and anti-corrupt’ candidates.

“The party has always focused on honest and anti-corrupt candidates. It is great thing that voters are seeking this quality more in the forthcoming elections. This would be beneficial for the BJP,” said Prakash Javadekar, a Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party.

He added that the BJP was not taking any extra measures to search for `honest’ candidates.

“We are following our usual practice of screening,” said Javadekar, dismissing parties like the AAP for being ‘self righteous’.

Meanwhile, the TMC is hoping to expand its political footprint across India, in consultation with anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, by identifying the ‘honest and anti-corrupt’ brigade.

“The party will consult Anna for identifying candidates who have a clean image. Our major thrust will be on youth, women and candidates who represent the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe background,” said TMC MP Saugato Roy.

The party plans to contest all 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and some even in Assam, Tripura and Manipur, where it claims to have a strong base.

“We will look for honest candidates," Banerjee declared at a recent press meet.

Talking about the AAP, which ushered in a wave of ‘clean politics’, Roy said, “The AAP has the liberty to pursue its own agenda but we do not want to comment on their outlook.”

Ashutosh, the AAP’s candidate from Chandni Chowk, explained the party’s rigorous screening and selection process.

“We expect people to file affidavits vouching for their clean image and declaring that they don’t have any criminal cases registered against them. They then go through a first level of interview, after which the state/region head cross-checks the background of short-listed candidates. The final two-three candidates go through an interview with the Parliamentary Affairs Committee. Even after the candidates are announced, their candidature can be withdrawn if any discrepancy is found in the facts filed by them,” he said.

“A clean character, transparency and integrity are key qualities we are looking for in a candidate, but it is also important he/she has the ability to lead a constituency. This is validated when the candidate gets the signature of at least 100 voters from each assembly segment that he hopes to represent. This indicates that the person is sufficiently popular in the constituency to garner votes,” said the former journalist

But the stringent selection process has not deterred hopeful applicants from applying en masse to the AAP.

“There are ambitious people, honest people with resources as well as rich people who want to try their luck. For us, honesty is a key factor. For all other parties, winnability of the candidate remains the main factor,” adds Ashutosh.

When quizzed about Hazare’s support to the TMC and how Banerjee’s party would fare on the `honest’ candidate index, he said, “Hazare has been stressing on the rules for identifying honest, anti-corrupt candidates and how to remove anyone who is found to be violating such expectations. It is for the TMC to follow it and we all need to see if it can do that.”

The Congress, on the other hand, is hoping to draw in voters with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi's ambitious plan of holding 'primaries' for the selection of the Lok Sabha candidates for some seats.

This proposal aims to empower grassroots Congress workers by allowing them a say in the selection of candidates for the Parliamentary polls, said Congress sources.

“There is a focus on removing candidates with criminal backgrounds,” he added.

With a mélange of candidates from various walks of life and sections of society in the fray -- bankers, bureaucrats, social workers, singers and media professionals are expected to participate -- the battle for 2014 Lok Sabha will be an interesting study on what voters perceive as ‘honest’ in Indian politics.

Image: Posters of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi

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