Business Standard

Cong set to contest fewest Lok Sabha seats since ’51-52

- ARCHIS MOHAN New Delhi, 2 April

The Congress released a list of 17 candidates for the 2024 Lok Sabha (LS) polls on Tuesday, fielding Y S Sharmila Reddy from Andhra Pradesh’s Kadapa and Tariq Anwar from Bihar’s Katihar seat.

With the latest list of candidates, the Congress has announced its contestant­s on 231 seats and is set to field its lowest-ever number of candidates for any general elections since 1951-52.

The Congress is likely to field candidates on around 320-odd seats in the 2024 LS polls, a decision that has emanated from its strategy to vigorously contest only on its identified ‘targeted’ seats. It has identified a third of the total seats that it plans to contest as its ‘targeted seats’.

A resource crunch, diffident party leaders unwilling to enter the fray, and the Congress being more amenable to accommodat­ing the demands of its allies in the Indian National Developmen­tal Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) have contribute­d to the Congress fielding fewer LS candidates than ever before.

In 2019, the Congress fielded candidates on 421 seats, and in 2014, it was 464. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested 436 seats in 2019 and 428 in 2014. If the Congress is contesting fewer seats than ever before, the BJP is set to contest its highest-ever number of LS seats. The BJP has announced its candidates for 414 LS seats and could contest a greater number than it did in 2019.

The Congress has yet to announce its candidates for key states such as Punjab and Haryana. It has also not declared its candidates for crucial constituen­cies, including Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi and Raebareli, which were for decades the seats from which members of the Nehrugandh­i family contested.

The party is scheduled to announce its three candidates in Delhi, where it has an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), half a dozen seats each in Bihar and Gujarat, and also in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Raebareli LS member Sonia Gandhi is now a Rajya Sabha member, while there is no clarity yet on whether Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who lost from Amethi in 2019, will again contest from the seat.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is contesting 17 seats as part of its alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP). The Congress has yet to declare its candidates for the Mathura and Prayagraj seats.

For the 2024 LS polls, the Congress has entered seat-sharing arrangemen­ts in states where it wouldn’t earlier, such as accepting the SP’S demand to contest from Madhya Pradesh’s Khajuraho seat. In Haryana, AAP is contesting from Kurukshetr­a. In Gujarat, AAP is contesting from Bharuch and Bhavnagar.

In Rajasthan, the Congress has announced 22 of its candidates but struggled to find suitable candidates with senior leaders such as former Rajasthan chief minister (CM) Ashok Gehlot, former deputy CM Sachin Pilot, and state unit chief Govind Singh Dotasra unwilling to contest the LS polls. Vaibhav Gehlot, son of Ashok Gehlot, is contesting from Jalore.

From Rajasthan’s Rajsamand seat, the party announced the candidatur­e of former legislator Sudarshan Singh Rawat, who initially went incommunic­ado and eventually emerged to announce that he will not contest. The Congress shifted its Bhilwara candidate Damodar Gurjar to Rajsamand and persuaded its senior leader C P Joshi to contest from Bhilwara.

The Congress, which refused to enter any seat-sharing deal with smaller parties in the 2023 Assembly polls, came around to supporting them for the LS polls. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is contesting the Sikar seat, and Rashtriya Loktantrik Party’s (RLP’S) Hanuman Beniwal will contest from the Nagaur seat.

From Barmer, the Congress has fielded Ummeda Ram, who quit Beniwal’s party, the RLP, so that he could contest on the Congress’ party symbol. After party leader Mahendraje­et Singh Malviya, a tribal face of the party and a member of the Congress working panel, joined the BJP, the Congress has struggled to find a candidate for Banswara-dungarpur. Sources said it could support the Bharat Adivasi Party. In Karnataka, over half a dozen of the party’s candidates are sons, daughters, sons-inlaw, and spouses of state ministers.

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