Barely three weeks before the first votes are cast in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is grappling with a peculiar problem: candidates the party wants to field are not interested in contesting. And the ones the party wants to drop are not willing to give up their claim.
This has forced the party leadership to put off decisions on a number of seats.
While Union minister G K Vasan has already opted out of the race, his Cabinet colleague Chandresh Kumari Katoch does not want to contest from her Jodhpur constituency. Katoch wants a safer seat in Himachal Pradesh, but the state leadership is not obliging, sources said.
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Similarly, Union minister Santosh Chowdhary is reluctant to contest from her Hoshiarpur constituency, but the Punjab Congress is again not in favour of shifting her. Pauri Garhwal MP Satpal Maharaj has also opted out of the race.
The Congress, on the other hand, is reluctant to field Suresh Kalmadi from Pune due to his alleged involvement in the Commonwealth Games scam, but he is learnt to be putting up strong resistance. So also former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who was forced to quit over the Adarsh housing scandal.
Given how Ambala MP Kumari Selja had been accommodated in the Rajya Sabha, many ministers are said to be eyeing the same route to secure their seat in Parliament, much to the chagrin of the high command.
While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been wanting senior leaders in the party to make way for the youth, he may not have counted on the veterans to respond in the way they have. Many of these ‘run-away MPs’ may have sensed the party’s plummeting popularity, sources said, adding that there is also a growing feeling that they have a better chance in the event of an unstable coalition coming to power and forcing mid-term polls.
In his interactions, Rahul Gandhi himself is said to have given indications that he is weighing in favour of a Third Front government if the Congress does not come to power.
Asked at one such interaction in Mumbai last week whether he remains a reluctant prime minister, the Congress vice-president was said to have responded: “It is just the semi-final. It’s not the final yet.”
While maintaining that the Congress would return to power defying all predictions, Rahul also surmised that the next government may not last for more than one or two years and there might be “another election”.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was also said to have drawn the same inference from his interactions with the Congress leadership.
With the top UPA leadership looking at yet another shot at power in 2015, it was only expected that lesser mortals in the party would like to opt out this time, hoping to try their luck a couple of years later. While the growing popularity graph of Modi might put paid to that assessment and hope of Congressmen, the “escapist” tendency only seems to be growing as the poll nears.
Rahul Gandhi came face to face with this reality at a meeting with West Bengal Congress leaders in Delhi earlier this month. While Abdul Mannan showed his injured leg and said he did not have the money to contest the elections, former PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya mentioned his old age and ill health.
Rahul, it is said, was not impressed though.