New Delhi: Veteran Congress leaders in Maharashtra have refused to contest against Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis after the party’s working president Nitin Raut recommended their names as probable candidates to interim chief Sonia Gandhi.
Raut, according to Raut’s letter accessed by ThePrint, wrote to Sonia suggesting that “high-profile” candidates such as Mukul Wasnik, Nana Patole, Avinash Pandey, Vijay Wadettiwar or Vilas Muttemwar should be fielded against the BJP heavyweight in the upcoming polls.
Two of those recommended, however, told ThePrint that they weren’t considering even contesting the elections altogether while a third on the list pointed out that the fact that he was the sitting MLA in another constituency.
The three also said the letter was prompted by “local rivalry” in the state unit. Terming it an “attack letter”, they recommended that Raut himself should contest against the chief minister.
The two others refused to comment.
Fadnavis is the sitting MLA from Nagpur South West constituency. From a rising leader at the start of his tenure, the chief minister has consolidated his position to become BJP’s face in Maharashtra.
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‘Not fighting elections’
Veteran Congress leader and former Nagpur MP Muttemwar told ThePrint that he had already conveyed to the high command that he wasn’t fit to contest elections considering his health problems. “Local rivalry is prompting this attack letter. Why does the one who has written not contest,” asked the leader.
“I refused to fight the Lok Sabha elections and I have never contested an assembly election before. Neither has Mukul Wasnik, why would we?” Muttenwar added.
Wadettiwar, a sitting MLA from Brahmapuri and the leader of the opposition in Maharashtra assembly, refused to comment on the issue but pointed out that he represents a different constituency.
“Ask the person who wrote the letter,” he told ThePrint. “What is my relationship with that constituency? I represent a different one.”
Avinash Pandey, who is currently in Nagpur for the Congress’ Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, said he had other roles to play in the party. “It is out of question,” he told ThePrint. “I’m already looking after Rajasthan and there will be other management roles in the state to look after.”
Wasnik, who was earlier considered a frontrunner for the post of Congress president, and Patole, who lost the Lok Sabha election to Union minister Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur, remained unavailable for comment.
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Not the first time
This, however, isn’t the first time that the Maharashtra Congress has recommended that its veteran leaders take on BJP heavyweights. In her first meeting after taking over as the interim Congress president, Sonia Gandhi had listened to Maharashtra Congress leaders urging “seniors to step up” and take on prominent BJP leaders such as Fadnavis.
In his letter, the Congress’s Vidarbha in-charge Raut also urged Sonia to hasten the process to select candidates. Raut, in his Monday letter, also recommended that “Wasnik recuse himself from the Central Election Committee meeting of the Congress when the candidates for Vidarbha are being selected”. The CEC is the final authority on deciding candidates for the polls.
“The logic is simple, they are heavyweights in the region where Nitin Gadkari and Fadnavis hold a lot of sway,” a source in Raut’s office told ThePrint. “They are the residents from there and voters. Why doesn’t a senior candidate take on the chief minister?”
“If they don’t want to contest, why don’t they recommend a consensus candidate,” the above-mentioned source said.
The Maharashtra Congress is consulting its allies in the state and will present a list of the seats it will contest in the elections. The party’s screening committee headed by Jyotiraditya Scindia, meets Tuesday, to finalise the list of probable candidates that will be forwarded to the CEC.
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Not one of the names mentioned is a winnable candidate. Most have survived on their relationship with the ‘high-command’ and do not have any base of their own. Winnable candidates were never allowed to grow in Nagpur. The feud between Anees Ahmed, Satish Chaturvedi, Vilas Muttemwar and the other factions ensured no good candidates ever come up. The best thing for the party in the region is to carry out a painful transplant of various organs – the ones in place right now have failed and are turning the party’s body toxic.
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