Much was made of the Rahul Gandhi method of distributing tickets to candidates in the ongoing Assembly polls in five states. The pitch was suitably high and, at times, was even being touted as the way forward for the Congress in the run-up to 2014. Now, if only there were takers for the method. If ticket distribution for the Delhi Assembly polls is anything to go by, that voice has been resoundingly drowned and it’s back to square one for the Congress.
The Rahul method is elaborate. It requires that a panel of names for a particular constituency should come from the block level. In practice, the MLA or MP from a constituency is senior to the block level party worker. This creates a problem, for if the block does not suggest his or her name, the person is automatically not a candidate. A screening committee shortlists three names. These names are then sent to the party’s Central Election Committee (CEC), headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, with the prime minister as a member. Finally, the CEC zeroes in on one candidate.
This formula was ignored in Delhi. If sources are to be believed, it was conveyed to the central leadership that if ability to win is not the criteria for candidate selection, then the Delhi Congress would not be responsible for the outcome. The curt message ensured that norms were relaxed and tickets were distributed in line with pragmatic considerations. This was evident particularly in three Assembly constituencies, where the CEC overruled Rahul and his team.
Harsharan Singh Balli, an old BJP hand, had broken away from his party and expressed a desire to contest the polls from the Hari Nagar assembly constituency on a Congress ticket. However, the Congress had already announced Surender Kumar Setia as its candidate from that constituency. While Team Rahul wanted to continue with Setia, it was conveyed to the party leadership that Balli was their best bet for the seat, and ultimately this prevailed.
In the Rajouri Garden constituency, Rahul was not keen on giving a ticket to sitting Congress MLA Dayanand Chandela, as he has criminal cases against him. Chandela apparently threatened to contest as an independent candidate from the seat if he was denied a Congress ticket. Here too, the Delhi leadership prevailed upon the CEC to adopt a practical stand and hand the ticket to Chandela’s wife Dhanvantri.
The Delhi Congress released its candidates list in two instalments. While the first list had 56 names, in the second list of 14 candidates, the party decided to field only new candidates. Once again, that had to be compromised.
For the Tilak Nagar and Janakpuri constituencies, the Congress has placed its trust on Amrita Dhawan and Ragini Nayak, respectively. Both have been associated with the party since their days as student leaders of the National Students Union of India (NSUI).
Even more interesting is the case of Asif Mohammed Khan, independent MLA from Okhla. Two months ago, Khan was inducted in the Congress despite Rahul’s reluctance. Khan apparently has several criminal cases against him. The Delhi leadership, however, felt it was safe to place their bets on him as he has been a councillor from Okhla. Erstwhile Congress MLA from Okhla and current Rajya Sabha MP Parvez Hashmi had wanted the seat for his son, but was apparently turned down. In the end, Khan was made the Congress candidate from Okhla.
“One has to assess local conditions and then decide on the candidate,” says a senior member of the Delhi Congress. “Preset conditions can be fatal.”
Tickets have even been given to repeat candidates, whose winnability is questionable. Neeraj Basoya, Congress MLA from Kasturba Nagar, is one such candidate who has been given a party ticket despite reports that the popular mood is against him. Kasturba Nagar is an urban constituency that includes posh areas like Defence Colony and Andrews Ganj. Basoya trumped Abhishek Dutt, an NSUI leader and the Congress Councillor from Andrews Ganj. Abhishek, 33, had the backing of the Rahul Team, but had to ultimately cede his place to Basoya.
In an even more bizarre turn of events, 1984 Delhi riots accused Sajjan Kumar has been given a ticket from the Sangam Vihar constituency. Sajjan’s brother Ramesh is a Lok Sabha MP from South Delhi. Mahabal Mishra, Congress MP from West Delhi, has managed a ticket for his son from Palam. Among other old-timers, Amit Malik, former president of the Youth Congress, will fight from the Kirari constituency. Interestingly, there were protests outside the Congress headquarters in Delhi asking for tickets for three candidates, including Malik. This has never happened earlier.
Behind closed doors, senior Congress leaders insist that good intentions need to be backed by practical realities. Officially, they debunk the existence of camps within the party. “There is no team in the Congress,” says Shakeel Ahmed, general secretary in-charge of Delhi. “We are all together and we will win in Delhi.”