The Congress released on Thursday its first list of 15 candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. This adds to the build up to the world’s greatest electoral exercise.
The release of the first list comes a few days before the Election Commission announces the poll schedule.
These are the reasons why the first list of the Congress holds significance:
The Congress has become the first national political party to release names of candidates. This also sets to rest the speculations about the candidature and seats of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi. They will contest from their traditional bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli respectively.
This also puts to rest the conjecture that Sonia Gandhi will retire due to health reasons and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will contest from Rae Bareli.
However, suspense still remains whether Priyanka Vadra will contest the election.
The list has been released for only two states – UP and Gujarat. It shows the party’s importance for the two states.
UP is where two members of the Congress’s first family are contesting election.
Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
UP is also a state which sends the maximum 80 out of 543 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Moreover, PM Modi represents UP’s Varanasi in the Lok Sabha.
Hence, UP and Gujarat are the two main battlegrounds for the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi was declared Congress president in the midst of the December 2017 Gujarat assembly election.
It was the first state where the Congress witnessed the first impact of Rahul Gandhi’s frontal attack against Narendra Modi and the BJP. The BJP’s seat share reduced to 99 from 115 out of 182 seats.
Congress senior spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad said the Central Election Committee of the party met and declared the seats where there was only one candidate. “Screening and shortlisting will be done for the constituencies where there are more than one candidates before releasing the final list,” he said.
Meanwhile, the list also rakes up a controversy as the Congress has fielded controversial politician Imran Masood from Saharanpur.
In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Imran Masood had threatened to chop PM Modi, who was then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, into pieces. He was arrested and jailed.
The Congress has come under attack from the BJP for fielding Imran Masood.
BJP’s media department head and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Baluni told that not just Imran Masood, there was a long list of Congress leaders right from Rahul Gandhi to a local party leader who were abusive.
“This is their ideology – to use abusive language,” Anil Baluni said.
However, Shakeel Ahmad defended the Congress’s decision to field Imran Masood. He said, “The decision is not controversial at all. He is an extremely popular leader. He is popular among all sections of the society. He lost the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections by a small margin.”
Sonia Gandhi’s move to contest from Rae Bareli is surprising, underlying 10 Janpath’s desperate bid to shore up Congress prospects in the 2019 general elections and keep the party cadre motivated.
However, in doing so, the former Congress president has over-ruled herself. Sonia had toyed with the idea of retiring from politics in 2016 when she turned 70. The party, however, kept pressuring, dithering and delaying till Rahul Gandhi was crowned party president when the Gujarat assembly polls were underway. For the past one year, Sonia had almost stopped meeting Congress leaders, telling them to call on Rahul. However, political compulsions or the doctrine of necessity due to the post-Pulwama and surgical strikes scenario has forced her to junk her own desire to set an example of voluntary retirement from public life.
The development signals, yet again, the clout of the Congress old guard over the Gandhis. In other words, for the first time in contemporary history, the country’s illustrious political family has become hopelessly dependent on the party than the other way round.
“Sonia Gandhi dobara” has its positives. The woman from Orbassano is one of the finest graduates from the university of life. From available indications, she is preparing herself to play the role of a “kingmaker” after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls if the verdict is split.
The 2004 tie-up with the DMK was another example of realpolitik. The DMK was a party that some senior Congress leaders had in 1997 accused of being soft on the LTTE — the Sri Lankan militant outfit to whose bomb Rajiv Gandhi fell. However, from 2004-2014, Sonia displayed a refreshing approach towards allies, bringing around even the NCP, with which the party had an ego clash. Through the UPA years of 2004-14, Sonia kept both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in good humour, even though they were rivals on the Uttar Pradesh turf.
Sources close to Sonia say her life has largely been shaped by circumstances than her free will. She was opposed to the idea of Rajiv Gandhi joining politics after Sanjay Gandhi’s death and Rajiv taking over as prime minister after Indira Gandhi. But on both occasions, circumstances forced her to accept destiny. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, she showed a degree to firmness to say no to politics when the entire Congress Working Committee, led by Pranab Mukherjee, pleaded with her to be Rajiv’s successor.
By 1997, several Congress leaders such as Aslam Sher Khan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, PR Kumaramangalam, Suresh Kalmadi and Buta Singh had deserted the grand old party. In despair, a number of middle-rung leaders such as Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel, Ashok Gehlot, Vayalar Ravi and Kamal Nath approached “apolitical” Sonia with a plea: “How can you allow the collapse of the Congress before your eyes.” The tardy progress in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe, declining fortunes of the Congress and attack on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy had weighed heavily on Sonia’s decision to join active politics. She viewed the Congress as an extension of her love for Rajiv Gandhi and the country she had chosen to live in.
Delivering a lecture on ‘Living politics: what India has taught me’ at the Nexus institute in Netherlands in 2007, Sonia had observed, “Looking back, I can say that it was through the private world of family that the public world of politics came alive for me: living in intimate proximity with people for whom larger questions of ideology and belief as well as issues relating to politics and governance were vivid daily realities. I had to school myself not to react in the face of falsehood and slander. I had to learn to endure them as the rest of the family did,” she said.
In conclusion, Sonia had remarked, “Public life in India is characterised by vigorous debate and vehement contention. The cacophony of politics is the very music of our democracy.”
After interrogating Robert Vadra for two days in Jaipur in connection with the Bikaner land scam, the ED attached his Sukhdev Vihar house besides other assets worth over Rs 4.62 crore which is under name of his company Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd.
According to the ED, he purchased a large tract of land for just a small sum of Rs 72 lakh and sold it to Allegeny Finlease for Rs 5.15 crore later. He has been interrogated twice earlier in Delhi in a separate case of money laundering and alleged benami properties acquired by him in Dubai and London.
The ED investigation revealed that the central government had acquired land in as many as 34 villages in Bikaner district for the purpose of establishing the Mahajan Field Firing Range. Fraudster Jai Prakash Bagrwa and others, in collusion with state government officials, got 1,422 bigha of government land illegally allotted to fictitious persons in the guise of a scheme of the state government meant for people displaced due to establishment of MFFR and illegally sold 1,372 bigha out of this land to various persons/companies. After the fraud was detected, the land was transferred back as government land in revenue records by the Rajasthan government. Rajasthan Police had earlier registered 18 FIRs in this case and filed chargesheets against Jai Prakash Bagrwa and 10 others in August 2015 and March 2017. The ED later registered a case under PMLA in September 2015.
Christian Michel ‘aggressively’ denied paying bribes to any UPA leader or defence ministry official as suggested in his purported handwritten notes. But he admitted to taking money from AgustaWestland, which he said was a ‘consultancy’ fee. Officials familiar with his interrogation said Michel had not disclosed names of any “beneficiaries” of bribe. Michel claimed that he was “dyslexic”.
Michel told CBI officers he couldn’t write and the ‘bribery’ notes listing alleged payments to politicians and bureaucrats were penned by Guido Haschke, another European middleman. Relevantly the notes had described Sonia Gandhi as the “driving force behind the VIP (choppers)”.
Michel further said in the notes that besides Sonia, Peter Hulet (then-India region sales head of AgustaWestland) should ‘target’ then-PM Manmohan Singh, then-defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.
Christian Michel, extradited ‘unconditionally’ by UAE on Tuesday.