Rahul wants all segments covered before poll schedule is announced

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi should be named the party’s prime ministerial candidate ahead of the general elections and no tainted person should be given ticket — these were among the suggestions made by senior leaders on Thursday at the first meeting of the Congress’s campaign committee here on Thursday. The meeting decided at Mr. Gandhi’s instance to hold a week-long padyatra in all Lok Sabha constituencies before the Election Commission announces the election schedule, in all likelihood, by the first week of March.

At the meeting chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Gandhi at the Congress headquarters here, Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari made an impassioned plea for naming Mr. Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate on the ground that political contests are, increasingly, about personalities rather than policies, party sources said.

Mr. Tewari said the elections should be framed as an ideological battle not just between secular and communal forces but also “between the poor and marginalised,” on the one hand, and “crony capitalists”, on the other. The country, he said, was witnessing its second power shift: if the first, in the early 1990s, saw power shifting from government to the private sector, now that concentration of economic clout was attempting to usurp political power not through a political party but an individual. He underscored the need to take the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, head-on after each of his rallies.

Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Rajya Sabha member, said that with corruption being a major issue in the upcoming elections, those with tainted pasts should not be given ticket.

His plea comes against the backdrop of reports suggesting that Meera Kalmadi, wife of Pune MP Suresh Kalmadi, who was jailed in the Commonwealth Games scandal, and Amita Chavan, wife of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who lost his job because of his involvement in the Adarsh scam, are being considered for ticket.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Gandhi, after listing the programmes and policies of the party, said that while highlighting these in the elections, it was important to remain conscious of the many challenges, including ideological ones and the battle between competing visions.

In an attempt to connect with people, the Congress decided to hold the “padyatra.” The issue, party sources said, was discussed at Thursday’s meeting where some leaders like party general secretary Gurudas Kamat felt that at this stage, when names of candidates were being finalised and people were focussing on individual constituencies, such an exercise might be somewhat “impractical.”

The padyatras are to cover all villages with a population of over 2,000, local markets, weekly bazaars and towns with the objective of reaching out to as many people as possible through focussed group meetings, gram chaupals and public rallies. Each block will be covered over seven days, and in at least five places there, senior State or Central leaders have been asked to make an appearance. Senior leaders are expected to attend two to four rallies in a State during the seven-day programme.

The party, which intends to involve dominant community leaders in the exercise, expects Congress leaders and workers to traverse 10 to 15 km daily during the programme. One-page flyers, listing the UPA government’s achievements, will be distributed at the rallies. General secretaries in-charge of States, Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs and others will oversee the whole effort

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