NATIONAL

Cong. clears 83 candidates for Gujarat polls

NEW DELHI NOV. 13. The Congress appears to have gingerly crossed the initial leg of finalising its candidates for the Gujarat Assembly elections. It promised to release the first list of its candidates tomorrow.

By the time the Central Election Committee meeting broke up last night, the party had managed to clear the names of 83 of its nominees. Today, members of the screening committee for Gujarat and senior party leaders from the State were closeted together at Pranab Mukherjee's house trying to resolve the conflicting claims of the State leaders. The final list of candidates, party leaders say, will be finalised at the CEC meeting on November 16.

Though most of the 53 sitting MLAs were being renominated, the party has also decided to drop a couple of its sitting legislators. Given the high stakes of the elections, the guiding principle appears to be winnablity, and leadership was not averse to replacing some of its MLAs. "This election will have implications, well beyond the State we can leave nothing to chance,'' says a member of the CWC.

The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, will campaign from the first week of December. The party also plans to deploy most of the senior leaders, as well as Ministers from the States bordering Gujarat.

Though the Congress has been unable to accommodate the demands of the Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party, senior party leaders maintain that the party is willing to take the extra step to avoid a split in the secular vote. "Every vote counts, and we will do everything we can to avoid a split in the non-BJP vote,'' says a leader involved in the seat-sharing negotiations.

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