Coupled with the very real possibility of suffering a virtual rout in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the Congress now has to contend with the outright refusal by some of its top leaders to face the electorate.
And the sheer dread of entering the electoral arena displayed by the top brass had posed serious problems to the Central Election Committee in compiling the second list of the party’s LS candidates.
Congress leaders from Tamil Nadu are said to be topping the list of those shying away from contesting the elections, followed by a few from Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana. Curiously, a good majority of them have either cited ill-health or central election duties to opt out of the fray, even though Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wanted the list of candidates to be a mixed bag of senior leaders and young aspirants.
At the CEC meeting on Tamil Nadu, Sriperumbudur was reportedly identified as a possible seat for Jayanthi Natarajan but, sources said, she was not quite willing. K V Thangkabalu, E V K S Elangovan, B S Ganadesikan and notably P Chidamabaram had expressed their reluctance to contest the polls. Among the TN Congress leaders, G K Vasan was already on the record saying that he could not contest the elections since he would be busy campaigning for the party, which is going solo in the state after a sizable gap.
Chidambaram, sources said, would like his son Karti to contest from his Sivaganga constituency. Providing twist to the tale is E M Sudarsana Natchiappan,who has offered himself as a candidate from Sivaganga.
Sources said Natchiappan, who is currently visiting Myanmar, “has sought time from Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi” to formally convey his readiness to contest “since no other senior leader is ready”. This is despite the fact that he has two more years of his Rajya Sabha tenure remaining.
However,this is not a TN-specific phenomenon. Union Minister Sachin Pilot, regarded as a member of Rahul brigade and who was recently given charge of Rajasthan, where the Congress was mauled by the BJP in the Assembly polls, has offered his Ajmer seat to cricketer-turned-MP Mohammed Azharuddin.
The party, though, has a problem accommodating Azhar in a ‘winning’ seat. After the party laboured to find a safe seat for the ex-cricketer in West Bengal, it zeroed in on Ranchi as a possible alternative. But three-time MP Subodh Kant Sahay protested against the move, which forced the party on to the backfoot. But there are many, who believed that if Pilot were allowed to vacate his Ajmer seat for Azhar--one of Rahul’s favourite MPs--he would be merely finding a “good excuse” to opt out of the contest. And, he’s not the only young minister wanting to take a break from contesting the elections.
Union I&B Minister Manish Tewari also seems to be not too keen on seeking re-election from Ludhiana, citing health concerns. Tewari, sources say, was trying hard to shift base to Chandigarh as a replacement of ‘tainted’ former Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. But the Congress CEC appears keen to renominate Bansal, a ‘winnable’ candidate. Similarly, Randeep Surjewala, the rather articulate Haryana Cabinet Minister and Congress’ national spokesperson, has declined to contest the Lok Sabha elections from his home state on claiming that he has been assigned “party work that’ll keep him occupied”.