Primary showdown

The Congress primary in Mangalore has led to a face-off between two party heavyweights, shone the light on a new dynasty in the making

Published:February 4, 2014 2:04 am
The Lok Sabha seat was last won by the Congress two-and-a-half decades ago in 1989, when Poojary himself was the victor. The Lok Sabha seat was last won by the Congress two-and-a-half decades ago in 1989, when Poojary himself was the victor.

They have been devised as an experiment to divest control of candidate nominations from the Congress’s Delhi leadership (Rahul Gandhi) by handing it to grassroots-level Congressmen. Of the total 15 US-style primaries across parliamentary constituencies in India in the coming weeks, two are to be held in Karnataka. But, in this state at least, instead of narrowing the field of candidates before an election, as a “primary” is meant to do, the process has caused havoc and led to a face-off between two Congress party heavyweights.

Most of the riveting drama revolves around one primary: the Lok Sabha seat of Mangalore in coastal Karnataka, where the field has been suddenly and tardily thrown wide open. Headbutting each other for the nomination are old Congress hand, Janardhana Poojary, and Harsha Moily, the son of Union Minister Veerappa Moily and a political newbie.

In the shortlist of nominations compiled by the state Congress some weeks ago for each of Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha constituencies, Mangalore was one of the exceptions. There, instead of a customary “panel” of candidates prepared for the party high command to choose from, the state party proposed a solitary, undisputed candidate: Poojary. The subsequent announcement of a “primary” in Mangalore and the inclusion of Harsha Moily in the list of contestants has completely fogged up the scenario.

Mangalore is an interesting Lok Sabha segment. It is an urban constituency situated in what is deemed to be a BJP stronghold, the west coast. The Lok Sabha seat was last won by the Congress two-and-a-half decades ago in 1989, when Poojary himself was the victor.
Since then, the BJP has triumphed every single time.

More fascinating are the two main candidates for the Congress’s internal election. Poojary, 76, was a Union minister during the time of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and subsequently a key party functionary in Delhi. His current sidelining is interpreted by some partymen as ageism — Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to clear the party of older, more staid leaders — and by others as Gandhi’s effort to make way for fresh faces.

Poojary’s main opponent, the 42-year old US-educated Harsha Moily, is certainly brand new to politics. The Moily family is from the Dakshina Kannada district, of which Mangalore is a part, and the junior Moily is familiar with the language and geography of the constituency. He is no stranger to grassroots work either, having set up and run MokshaYug Access, an organised retail chain that directly sources milk, vegetables and fruits from rural farmers. MYA is backed, among others, by the venture fund run by the legendary Silicon Valley-based investor, Vinod Khosla.

“I am a candidate in the internal election,” asserted the younger Moily, who said he had been working in the constituency for two months to drum up support. “The Congress has not won Mangalore in 24 years, and party workers are crying for a change,” he said in a phone conversation.

As progressive as the internal election move is, the Moily-Poojary confrontation cannot be any good for the Congress at this critical juncture. Congressmen in Mangalore are conflicted about the showdown. By accommodating Harsha Moily and allowing him to contest the primary in violation of party rules (if he wins, father and son will both contest the Lok Sabha elections, breaking the one-seat-per-family rule), Rahul Gandhi, at least, has already cast his vote in this “primary”.

Equally significantly, the Mangalore episode spotlights the political rise of the Moily family in the Congress party. The trusted and loyal Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily’s star is on the ascendant in the party in Delhi, after he was given additional charge of the environment and forests ministry recently.

When Rahul Gandhi recently demanded that the entitlement of subsidised cooking gas cylinders per household be raised from 9 to 12, Moily responded with alacrity. He announced the increase within hours and, this week, his ministry has ratified the increment. Again, soon after he took over the environment and forests portfolio, Moily has controversially cleared a record 70 projects in less than a month.

Besides father and son, there is a third, less-visible Moily component to the Congress 2014 Lok Sabha fight. That is Anand Adkoli, Moily’s Bangalore-based son-in-law who is backending the analytics and big data moves for Rahul Gandhi’s election strategy. The low-key Adkoli, formerly an employee of a technology multinational in the US, has shied away from interviews so far and is known to fly in to Delhi every weekend to brief Rahul Gandhi on the number crunching.

The Moilys are, by no means, the only family aspiring to set up a political dynasty. The progeny and relatives of several prominent Congressmen, such as Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva and Karnataka Higher Education Minister R.V. Deshpande, are all vying for Congress tickets. Leaders in the BJP and the Janata Dal are equally greed-stricken. The reality of Indian politics is that, despite the assertions of various parties to the contrary, dynasties will be even tougher to eradicate than polio.

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. T
    TIHARwale
    Feb 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm
    Janardhana Poojary ( the toddy tapper tutned loan mela King who was a terror to Chairman of Public Sector Banks during 1980 -89 when in his meetings he will pick any poor person ask whether he is encouraged by Bank Managers to develop his business if answer is negative the Branch head would have received transfer order the following morning mothing wrong because Banks should not be looted by likes of Vijay Malliah who sells Whisky) should allow Harsha Moily to contest because hi family ensures loyalty is rewarded and if Congress forms Govt Poojary will be accomodated in some Raj Bhawan.
    Reply
  2. T
    TIHARwale
    Feb 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm
    Janardhana Poojary ( the toddy tapper tutned loan mela King who was a terror to Chairman of Public Sector Banks during 1980 -89 when in his meetings he will pick any poor person ask whether he is encouraged by Bank Managers to develop his business if answer is negative the Branch head would have received transfer order the following morning mothing wrong because Banks should not be looted by likes of Vijay Malliah who sells Whisky) should allow Harsha Moily to contest because hi family ensures loyalty is rewarded and if Congress forms Govt Poojary will be accomodated in some Raj Bhawan.
    Reply
  3. A
    Ayush Narayan
    Feb 7, 2014 at 4:35 pm
    Dear Akka,Now, W Dakshina Kannada district is Dakshina Kannada LS consuency since 2009. This is mixture of urban, coastal & Malnad area.
    Reply
  4. A
    Ayush Narayan
    Feb 7, 2014 at 4:35 pm
    Dear Akka,Now, W Dakshina Kannada district is Dakshina Kannada LS consuency since 2009. This is mixture of urban, coastal & Malnad area.
    Reply
  5. F
    fdsouza
    Feb 5, 2014 at 9:45 pm
    Rahul is trying hard to remove dynasities other than his own. It is not his fault that he is from a dynasity. Anybody who knows Rahul will know that he is against dynasities. He consistently proves it by his actions like nominating scindia , pilot, karthik chidambaram and others who are gr root workers with no political connections are fathers.
    Reply
  6. A
    anonymous
    Feb 4, 2014 at 5:35 am
    Nothing wrong in dynastic politics. Every country has it. The Clintons, Kennedys and Bushes in US, are prime examples
    Reply
  7. J
    jey emm
    Feb 4, 2014 at 10:04 am
    Very informative article. Keep up Saritaji. I am not a congress backer but then Harsha seems to be the right candidate. Having said that I have heard some very negative feedback about Harsha's conduct. Congress leaders should give an opportunity to this learned young candidate and see how he performs.
    Reply
  8. N
    Naresh Jain
    Feb 5, 2014 at 2:08 am
    With primaries for selection of candidate, you can not have rule such as only one candidate from only from 1 family. Leave this question to be answered by party workers at grroots. Request media not to see faults with the process of primaries. As no system devised can be perfact but has limitation of its own.
    Reply
  9. Load More Comments