Lok Sabha elections | Congress drops Jaipur candidate after row over links to right-wing forum

Congress’ choice for Udhampur Lok Sabha seat was also questioned as he had supported the accused in the Kathua gang rape case.

Updated - March 25, 2024 12:45 am IST

Published - March 24, 2024 10:34 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Photo used for representation purpose only. After a political uproar, Congress dropped Jaipur Lok Sabha candidate Sunil Sharma and fielded former Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas.

Photo used for representation purpose only. After a political uproar, Congress dropped Jaipur Lok Sabha candidate Sunil Sharma and fielded former Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas.

Following a political uproar over its choice of candidate for the Jaipur City Lok Sabha seat, the Congress on March 24 dropped Sunil Sharma and fielded former minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas in his place.

Mr. Sharma has been associated with Jaipur Dialogues, a right-wing forum that is known to target the Congress leadership and target minority communities.

In a fresh list of three names on Sunday, the party fielded Mr. Khachariyawas, a minister in the Ashok Gehlot government, from Jaipur.

The party also named Murari Lal Meena from Dausa seat in Rajasthan. The third candidate, Pratibha Dhanorkar, has been given a party ticket for the Chandrapur seat in Maharashtra.

Sharma’s past

On Saturday, Shashi Tharoor, senior leader and Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram, questioned his party’s choice from Jaipur on social media.

“He must have undergone some sort of Pauline epiphany on the road to 24 Akbar!” Mr. Tharoor said in a post on X and shared an earlier post by the official handle of Jaipur Dialogue that called Mr. Tharoor another “Rahul Gandhi who stole a thesaurus from a library in his way out”.

“This is just one of several dozen tweets from his handle attacking me,” the Congress leader had added.

While refuting the allegations, Mr. Sharma said he was in no way related to the Jaipur Dialogues YouTube channel or its Twitter handle.

He denied being a director of Jaipur Dialogues and asserted that he had severed ties with the platform long ago.

“This is completely fake news and false propaganda being floated to diminish the prospects of the Congress Party,” Mr. Sharma said.

The Jaipur City Lok Sabha seat is considered a stronghold of the Brahmin community, which played a role in the selection of Mr. Sharma. However, his Brahmin identity was overshadowed by the allegations of his direct association with Jaipur Dialogues, as he was a regular participant in the conclaves organised by the platform.

“Jaipur Dialogues YouTube channel invited me to speak on various social issues as per the vision of Congress. I have advocated the noble traditions of India and always opposed religious narrow-mindedness strongly,” he said.

Cong discomfiture

However, facing an embarrassing predicament, the party dropped Mr. Sharma, whose family has been associated with the Congress since the Independence struggle. His father was a freedom fighter and a general secretary in the Congress Socialist Party.

His brother, the late Suresh Sharma, was the Jaipur district president of Congress and had unsuccessfully contested the Assembly election from Jaipur in the 1990s.

Mr. Sharma, now Chairman and Chancellor of Suresh Gyan Vihar University in Jaipur, joined the Congress in 1981 and has held various posts including party general secretary and was in-charge of the media cell.

He was given responsibility for the Congress social media campaign ahead of the 2013 State Assembly elections.

The Jaipur Dialogues was launched in 2016 by the now retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Sanjay Dixit. It identifies itself as a “platform for right-thinking people” and most of the content posted from its official X handle targets Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal.

There has also been outrage on social media platforms over Chowdhary Lal Singh, who has been fielded from the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat. Mr. Singh, a two-term former Congress MP before joining the BJP in 2014, rejoined the Congress on March 20.

In 2018, he courted controversy for supporting the accused in the Kathua gang rape case.

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