THE CONGRESS on Tuesday announced its list of “star campaigners” for the first and second phases of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. The list has 40 names, which includes Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Manmohan Singh, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Ameeta Chavan and Sushil Kumar Shinde. “The schedule of rallies will be decided in a couple of days,” said party spokesperson Sachin Sawant, another star campaigner.
Congress national president Rahul Gandhi has already held two rallies in Maharashtra — in Mumbai and Dhule. Priyanka, the party general secretary in charge of eastern UP, meanwhile, has never campaigned in Maharashtra. “Congress rank and file is waiting for Priyanka to arrive. Especially, among youngsters and women, she is very popular. We are sure every word of hers will create noise and drastically turn the atmosphere in favour of the party,” said Pune Congress leader Ramesh Iyer.
The list also names Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who had said that he would not campaign for the Congress-NCP alliance in Ahmednagar, from where BJP has fielded his son Sujay. Sawant said, “We are confident Vikhe-Patil will campaign everywhere, as he is our star campaigner. He might have said something, but the party is confident he will campaign for all candidates.” However, when contacted, Vikhe-Patil, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, said: “I will not campaign for the alliance candidate in Ahmednagar.”
Among other star campaigners is Sushil Kumar Shinde, who is contesting from Solapur. Shinde had lost to Sharad Bansode of BJP in the last polls. Party leaders said with Prakash Ambedkar also in fray, Shinde will have to sweat it out to win the seat. “In such a scenario, it is difficult to believe that Shinde will be able to spare time to campaign in other parts of the state,” said a leader.
Ameeta Chavan, wife of state party chief Ashok Chavan, has also made it to the list. She was supposed to contest from Nanded, but Congress forced Ashok Chavan to jump in the fray. Leaders said Ameeta will be looking after her husband’s campaign. She has never campaigned beyond Nanded, a leader said. Yet another prominent name among the star campaigners is Prithviraj Chavan, who has apparently been sidelined. He mostly stays put in Karad, his hometown, and has been missing from Congress-NCP meetings. Besides, the list includes senior journalist Kumar Ketkar, Sanjay Nirupam, who has been removed from the Mumbai party chief’s post and Milind Deora — the new Mumbai party chief. Former cricketer Mohd Azharuddin will also campaign in the state.