The Congress primaries, now over, have brought the jury out on their success. Rahul Gandhi’s experiment did come across as a democratic, participative process, but most of the primaries threw up predictable results, a few brought dynastic politics into play, and some saw allegations of rigging and bribery.
Three of the 16 tickets were won by relatives of local leaders: Assam minister Akon Bora’s son Manas in Guwahati, sitting MP Datta Meghe’s son Sagar in Wardha, and late Sis Ram Ola’s daughter-in-law Rajbala Ola in Jhunjhunu. The last of these would have become a family affair had the nomination of Rajbala’s son Amit not been rejected. Maharashtra’s other seat besides Wardha was Latur, won by Dattatraya Bansode who is considered close to Vilasrao Dekshmukh’s son Amit.
Sitting MPs won three seats: Ajay Maken (New Delhi), J P Aggarwal (Northeast Delhi) and Meenakshi Natarajan (Mandsour). In Kolkata North, the state leadership ensured there was no contest for Somen Mitra, just back from the Trinamool Congress. In Dakshina Kannada, party heavyweight Janardhan Poojary won a primary that M Veerappa Moily’s son, Harsh, wanted to contest but whose nomination was rejected.
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One of the only two surprises results was in Bikaner. A former MP from Sriganganagar, Shankar Pannu, won though the state leadership was not in favour of him. Leader of the opposition Rameshwar Dudi’s first two choices were rejected, one an executive engineer who could not clear the criteria set by the party, the other a panchayat-level leader when the guidelines demand at least a district-level office-bearer of the party or a frontal organisation.
The other surprise was in Bhavnagar, where MLA Pravin Rathod, a Koli, won against the Congress’s tradition of fielding Kshatriya or Patel candidates. His victory has upset caste calculations.
Narendra Rawat, city president of the Congress in Vadodara, was elected in the primary for that seat.
Both winners in UP were relatively low-profile but significantly had PCC chief Nirmal Khatri’s backing. Sant Kabir Nagar was won by district working president Rohit Pandey, a 34-year-old economics graduate who had joined the Congress just a year ago, and Ambedkar Nagar by Ashok Singh.
“In a couple of seats, the underdogs won. In the rest, the winners were relatives or loyalists of local leaders, or the sitting MPs themselves,” a senior leader said.
The most controversial of the elections was also the most one-sided, with Natarajan winning 706 to 50 against former Neemuch district Congress president Surendra Sethi, who openly alleged the primary was rigged. Sethi claimed hundreds of Congress workers registered for voting did not belong to either Neemuch or Mandsaur.
The Indore ticket went to Satyanarayan Patel. Patel, known locally as “Helicopter baba” for the rides he gives locals on his chopper, had lost the Lok Sabha election from there in 2009, and then the recent assembly election. His cause was helped when rival contender Jitu Patwari gave up his claim and extended him his support.
The contest in Bangalore North was close and reflected a factional feud. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s nominee, former MP C Narayanaswamy, defeated KPCC president G Parameshwara’s political secretary G C Chandrashekhar. Narayanaswamy recently joined the Congress from the JD(S).
The Congress calls the experiment a success. “It was aimed at involving the grassroots workers. At the end of it, you can see deserving candidates have won in all the seats,” says Prakash Joshi, AICC secretary in charge of the exercise.