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Battling election anxiety, Congress faces desertions
Saturday March 22, 2014 9:35 AM, IANS

The Congress, fighting negative public perception and with a demoralised cadre following a spate of opinion polls predicting a rout for the party in the coming elections, is having a tough time finding winnable candidates with some leaders unwilling to take the plunge and some others deserting the party to join its main rival BJP. Some others want a change of seats.

Among the prominent Congress leaders who have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in the run up to Lok Sabha elections are Satpal Maharaj, Jagdambika Pal and D. Purandeswari - three MPs who had won the 2009 election as Congress nominees.

Party veteran and former union minister Buta Singh, who was home minister in the government of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, has joined the Samajwadi Party.

Congress sources said that union ministers Srikant Jena and Chandresh Kumari and the party's Haryana unit chief Ashok Tanwar were among those who had explored the possibility of changing seats but were finally given tickets for the seats they won in 2009.

The party, however, allowed some leaders to change their seats. Cricketer-turned-politician Mohammed Azharuddin has been fielded from Tonk-Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan instead of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, which he won in 2009.

Former union minister C.P. Joshi has been shifted to Jaipur rural from Bhilwara.

"Change has been allowed on seats where it was felt that it will improve the party's prospects," a Congress leader told IANS.

He said that the party could not have allowed state party unit chiefs to change their seats as it would have sent a wrong message.

There was speculation that union minister Manish Tewari was keen to move from Ludhiana to Chandigarh where the party has already announced former union minister Pawan Kumar Bansal as its candidate.

The party is yet to announce its candidate from Ludhiana but there are indications that Tewari would be repeated from the seat.

Former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, whose name was being mentioned as a possible Congress candidate against senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley from Amritsar, had expressed his reluctance to contest.

The party Friday named him party candidate from Amritsar in a signal that the leadership would not succumb to public statements about reluctance to contest.

In states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, some leaders have already made it clear that they are not keen to contest.

"The high command's rationale is that since you (West Bengal unit) did not want to ally with Trinamool Congress, you should not now shy away from contesting polls," said a senior state leader who did not want to be named. The Congress recently decided not to ally with the ruling Trinamool, its former partner in UPA 2.

Senior state leaders like Pradip Bhattacharya and Manas Bhuiyan have spoken to the press about their unwillingness to contest polls owing to old age and organisational responsibilities.

The party Friday named Bhuiyan its candidate from Ghatal.

Party general secretary Joshi said it was the prerogative of the state president to suggest names and the party would decide accordingly. "There are no seniors or juniors when it comes to fighting elections," he added.

With Finance Minister P Chidambaram opting out of the contest apparently in keeping with his desire to make way for the younger generation, the Congress has fielded his son Karti from Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu.

Asked if the party was finding it tough to get candidates, especially in states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where it lacks a strong base and allies, Suraj Hegde, secretary to party vice president Rahul Gandhi, said: "The party has the most loyal cadre in these states and they have never changed their ideology or affiliations."

He defended the party getting senior leaders to fight the polls. "We are not forcing anyone but everyone has to abide by the party's decision."

The problem persists in other states too.

In Madhya Pradesh, another state where it suffered a defeat for the third time in the assembly elections last year, the state unit has demanded that former chief minister Digvijay Singh should contest from Vidisha against leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj.

Singh recently became a member of the Rajya Sabha, along with several other senior leaders, giving rise to speculation that they were backing out from an electoral fight.

"It will certainly boost the morale of our candidates if Singh were to contest. It will also make it a real fight in Vidisha," said Pankaj Chaturvedi, state spokesperson.

The Congress has also not shown dexterity in stitching up alliances. The Lok Janshakti Party, which was keen to be with the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, walked into the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The Congress could not cobble together any viable alliance in Tamil Nadu while the BJP has managed to have a multi-party alliance.

Congress leaders, privately, said that some leaders leaving the party on the eve of elections and joining BJP did help its opponent score brownie points in the heat of the election campaign and create a perception in its favour.

Officially, though, the party played down the desertions.

"Leaving and joining parties is commonplace closer to elections. There is no wave (in favour of BJP). The BJP is using all tactics to win over people and then give them tickets," party leader Shaktisinh Gohil told IANS.

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