The Congress Tuesday fielded a more formidable opponent against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Vadodara by getting its general secretary Madhusudan Mistry to contest from the seat instead of city unit chief Narendra Rawat who had won the primaries there.
But in a move that raised eyebrows, the Congress also gave a ticket to former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, who is accused in the Adarsh Housing Society scam, to contest from his family bastion of Nanded.
Rawat had two weeks ago won Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s ambitious primaries by a thin margin of 65 votes for what would have been his first Lok Sabha election and his name had been announced before the BJP declared Vadodara would be Modi’s second seat.
But on Tuesday, Rawat said he was withdrawing his candidature and asked the AICC to “field a suitable candidate” to take on Modi.
“I am thankful to Rahul Gandhiji for conducting the primaries polls and considering me as a candidate for the Lok Sabha elections, but since Narendra Modi is contesting from here, I request the AICC to take a decision and field a candidate who can take on Modi,” Rawat wrote in his letter to the AICC. Congress factions in Vadodara were not happy about the party fielding Rawat saying he was a weak candidate. Some leaders had conveyed their displeasure to AICC leaders and had sought a change, especially after the BJP fielded Modi.
The AICC had, however, responded by asking dissenting leaders to support Rawat as he had won the primaries. Rawat had also announced that he would hold his first public rally on March 30.
“The party declared me as the candidate before BJP fielded Modi. In such an event where a leader of Modi’s stature is fighting from Vadodara, I want the party to choose its best leader. If they ask me to fight, I will go ahead and contest,” Rawat told The Indian Express before he was replaced by Mistry.
Meanwhile, Mistry told The Indian Express that it was his “long-cherished dream to contest against Modi”.
“His lies have to be nailed,” he said. Asked what he thought of his chances against Modi, Mistry said they were “very good”. He also said Modi must resign as Gujarat chief minister to ensure a level playing field in the contest.
The BJP did not lose time in mocking the Congress for changing its Vadodara candidate, with party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi claiming this sounded the death knell for Rahul’s experiment with primaries.
Elsewhere, with Ludhiana MP and union minister Manish Tewari not fighting the polls, the Congress fielded Ravneet Singh Bittu – MP from Anandpur Sahib – from Ludhiana. Senior Congress leader Ambika Soni has already been declared the candidate from Anandpur Sahib.
In its seventh list comprising 12 candidates, the Congress also replaced Youth Congress member Tarun Patel in the Domariyaganj seat in Uttar Pradesh with Vasundhara Kumari Jay (wife of BJP MLA Jay Pratap Singh) and moved Patel to Chandauli.
With this, the party has declared 422 candidates but is yet to name Modi’s opponent from Varanasi.