NATIONAL

Congress denies ticket to 20 sitting MLAs

NEW DELHI NOV. 1. The Congress has doubled the number of women candidates and denied ticket to 20 sitting MLAs, including a Minister, Devendra Tekam, for the December 1 Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections.

The party, which released a list for 220 of the 230 seats, has given greater representation to the Other Backward Classes (64). The move, combined with the decision to field 34 women against 18 who contested the 1998 Assembly polls, is intended to counter the plank of the Bharatiya Janata Party whose campaign is being led by Uma Bharti, whose Lodh community is among the OBCs.

Prominent among those whose names appear in the list include the Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, from his traditional Raghogarh constituency, the Deputy Chief Ministers, Subhash Yadav (Kasrawad) and Jamuna Devi (Kukshi-reserved), the Finance Minister, Ajay Narayan Mushran (Narsimhapur), and the Speaker, Shriniwas Patel (Mangawan).

The party has also cleared the names of some close relatives of senior leaders. They are Ajay Singh (Churahat), son of the CWC member, Arjun Singh, Rajendra Malviya (Sawer-reserved), son of the PCC chief, R.K. Malviya, and Nitin Chaturvedi (Chandla), son of the Khajuraho MP, Satyavrat Chaturvedi. Three MLAs, including a Minister, opted out and the party has accommodated their close relatives instead. The Congress has 124 MLAs in the present Assembly.

Applying the party guidelines in refusing ticket to Mr. Tekam, for losing in his own Assembly segment during the 1999 Lok Sabha election, the Congress has allotted the seat to his wife, Krishna Tekam from Mandla. Similarly, the party has allowed Minister Shravan Patel opt out in favour of his son Nishith Patel (Bohariband), as also two others MLAs. Narendra Pratap retired in favour of his younger brother, Ajay Singh while Devkumar Patel preferred to field his brother, Raj Kumar Patel.

Releasing the list, the AICC general secretary, Ambika Soni, the Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh and Mr. Malviya, said the screening committee would decide on the rest of the candidates after a meeting with the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, tomorrow.

Denying that there were ``serious differences'', in finalising the candidates, Ms. Soni and Mr. Digvijay Singh said there were differences in assessment of senior leaders, ``which was natural'', and in they worked in a ``spirit of accommodation''.

However, it is learnt that Mr. Arjun Singh remained dissatisfied. He had differences of opinion with Shivraj Patil and Mr. Digvijay Singh today. The Chief Minister is believed to have taken exception to Mr. Singh's lament that gross unfairness has been committed in ticket distribution.

Mr. Digvijay Singh said in his assessment, the party would win anywhere between 125 to 135 seats. He appealed to all parties that were opposed to the BJP and fundamentalist forces to support the Congress. On the Bahujan Samaj Party's offer today, he reiterated that there was no formal proposal for any understanding, but did not keep it beyond the realm of possibility.

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