By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 24 Nov: The Candidates Screening Committee of Uttarakhand Congress today held its first meeting in Dehradun under the chairmanship of Avinash Pandey. Others who participated in the meeting included Devendra Yadav, who is in-charge of party affairs in Uttarakhand, PCC Chief Ganesh Godiyal, former Chief Minister Harish Rawat, former PCC Chief Pritam Singh, Dr Ajoy Kumar (member nominated by Congress President Sonia Gandhi) , Virendra Singh Rathore (member nominated by Congress President Sonia Gandhi), Rajesh Dharmani (Leader Co In-charge of party affairs in Uttarakhand) and Deepika Singh Pandey (Leader Co In-charge of party affairs in Uttarakhand).
Sources claimed that names of probable candidates for the 70 seats were not discussed in the first meeting. However, it was decided to retain all the sitting party MLAs, nine in all. They are Pritam Singh (Chakrata), Karan Mahra (Ranikhet), Qazi Nizamuddin (Manglaur), Govind Singh Kunjwal (Jageshwar), Mamta Rakesh (Bhagwanpur), Harish Dhami (Dharchula), Furqan Ahmad, (Piran Kaliyar), Adesh Chauhan (Jaspur) and Manoj Rawat (Kedarnath). Of course, with such few MLAs who won last time despite a strong Modi Tsunami in 2017, the Congress is hardly in a position to risk its position there with denying them the ticket. Besides, it was broadly agreed that the majority of those who lost narrowly in 2017 would also be retained as candidates. Its Purola MLA Rajkumar has, meanwhile, returned to the BJP and it would be looking for a formidable candidate there. Sources claim that Congress is considering the name of Malchand as a probable candidate, who had contested on the BJP ticket and had lost narrowly there as a sitting MLA in 2017.
In addition, Suresh Chand Jain, who had contested as Congress candidate from Roorkee after having been denied the ticket by the BJP has since returned to that party and the party will be looking for a new candidate there. The sitting MLA, Pradeep Batra, had won it for the Congress in 2012 but had switched over to the BJP before the 2017 polls.
Chaudhary Yashveer Singh, who lost the 2017 polls from Khanpur as Congress candidate, has also moved on to the BJP and it would have to look for a fresh candidate there. Some others, like Anusuya Prasad Maikhuri, who had contested as the Congress candidate from Karnaprayag, and Ambrish Kumar, who had contested as Congress candidate from Ranipur in Haridwar, are no more and hence the party would have to look for fresh faces there too.
It remains a mystery whether Harish Rawat will contest the assembly polls or not. In 2017, he had contested from Haridwar Rural and Kichha. Sources claim that Rawat could demand Haridwar Rural seat for his daughter, Anupama Rawat, and the Kichha seat in Udham Singh Nagar district for his son, Anand Rawat. However, whether this materialises, remains to be seen.
Having lost by a significant margin a large number of seats in 2017, the Congress would be looking to replace at least one third of the faces who had lost badly last time. However the challenge before the party would be to ensure that those denied the ticket don not contest as rebel candidates to ensure defeat of the official party candidates. Despite the fact that power has changed hands every time the assembly polls are held in the state, Congress does realise that it would not be a cakewalk this time. Though it will contest the polls as an Opposition party, it believes that it does have a narrow edge over the ruling party because of this factor of change of guard every time.
By Arun Pratap Singh