Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Friday said declaration of candidates for the Lok Sabha polls will be as per a "new process" which will take into account the "voice of the people" and work with a formal structure.
"For the first time, we are working on a deadline, getting voices of people into the party systematically," Rahul Gandhi told media persons here.
"The ticket distribution will be done by a new process. Discussions have been taking place within our party for a long time. We are doing this with a formal structure," he said before holding consultations with the newly-appointed chairpersons of the screening committees for all states and union territories.
In a major exercise ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Congress had last night constituted screening committees for all states and Union Territories for early selection of candidates.
In the first meeting of the Chairmen of these screening committees, Gandhi today underlined the importance of giving weightage to common people in decision making in political processes including deciding candidates.
He is learnt to have impressed upon the broad parameters of candidate selection like no criminal record against them and an experience of right kind of politics along with winnability.
Sources in the party had indicated that the meetings of the screening committees to select candidates will begin soon after the January 17 AICC meeting in Delhi, where the party could name Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate.
With Rahul keen on early declaration of candidates for Lok Sabha polls, the party is understood to have decided to come out with a list of 150 to 200 nominees by the end of this month.
Lok Sabha elections are likely to be held in April-May and the decision will give at least three months time to the candidates to prepare for the elections.
The exercise is also in line with the recommendation of the AK Antony panel entrusted with the task of drawing up an action plan for the party for Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
It had recommended that the candidates should be declared at least a few months ahead of the elections.
The AICC general secretary incharge of all the states were also present at the meeting.
It was decided to prepare a schedule for the meetings of the screening committees and shortlisting of candidates.
The sources said the process of candidate selection at the level of Pradesh Election Committee is already on and once they send the list to the screening committee, the shortlisting will done here.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde heads the panel for Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Andaman Nicobar.
Congress MP and spokesperson P C Chacko heads the panel for Delhi, Chandigarh, Haryana and Punjab.
Bhubaneshwar Kalita is the chairman of the screening committee for Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir and V Narayanasamy for Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura.
Mallikarjun Kharge is chairman of the Screening Committee for Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Mumbai while Vayalar Ravi heads the panel for Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka, Ghulam Nabi Azad for Kerala, Lakshadweep, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu. Oscar Fernandes has been made chairman for the panel in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
Pawan Kumar Bansal, who had to resign from the Railway Ministry last year after a corruption controversy, is back with a larger role in the party heading the screening committees for crucial states Gujarat and Rajasthan along with Dadar Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.
Rahul`s close aide Jitendra Singh is the screening committee in-charge of electorally crucial Uttar Pradesh.
All the screening committees have five members including AICC general secretary in-charge of the state, PCC chief and CLP leader and one more member.
Rahul`s close aide Meenakshi Natarajan has been included as member for the panel in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
Avinash Pandey has been made a member in the panel for UP, where there are 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Manick Tagore, another Rahul pick, finds place in the panel for Assam, Andaman Nicobar, Bihar and West Bengal while Paresh Dhanani has been included in the committee for Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Mumbai.
"We will be deciding candidates for much more than 100 Lok Sabha seats by the end of January," an AICC functionary closely associated with the exercise has said.
The leader said it was not that every sitting MP will get a ticket indicating that there is a feeling in the party that not repeating some of candidates can help it tide over the anti-incumbency against the 10-year-old UPA government.
The leader said the party will finalise candidates for seats in Congress quota in states where there are alliances arguing that even if the seats are exchanged among the allies at a later stage, the names of candidates should be decided earlier.
"The screening process for the selection of candidates was a critical element of the Congress strategy for the elections," Gandhi said.
He added that the screening process was initiated much earlier than has historically been the case with Congress.
Gandhi has been laying great emphasis on giving grassroots workers a voice in the selection of candidates.
Exercises undertaken as a result of Gandhi`s initiatives include using independent surveys to draw up profiles for each constituency along with its potential candidates.
A bigger involvement of District Congress Committees and the Pradesh Election Committee in the ticket distribution exercise has ensured a minimised role for the Screening Committee at the AICC level and the Central Election Committee as, by the time the list reaches those, the names have already been zeroed in upon.
The party, despite having made many announcements in the past, could not declare the names of candidates in time for the recent round of Assembly elections, especially in Madhya Pradesh, where that was seen as being one of the reasons behind Congress`s defeat in the state.
Gandhi`s pointsman, AICC general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, has prepared a separate list of candidates after visiting all 545 Lok Sabha seats.
Criteria like the denial of tickets to those who have successively tasted two electoral defeats or lost their deposits in the last poll were also put in place.
Sources however, said that an exception could be made for those candidates who polled 1 lakh votes on parliamentary seats even though they might have lost back-to-back elections.