New Delhi: With its back to the wall, Congress has decided to declare names of candidates for all 81 assembly seats in Delhi even before the election dates are announced to give them more time to prepare for the elections which are likely to be held in February.
After releasing its first list of candidates for 24 assembly seats of the 70-member Assembly today, the party will begin marathon meetings of its screening committee from tomorrow.
The meetings of the panel led by M Veerappa Moily to recommend candidates will culminate in a meeting of the Central Election Committee chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi next week which will decide on the rest 46 seats including New Delhi, where former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had lost to AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in 2013 polls, which brought to an end the 15-year-long Congress rule in the state.
There has been speculation that the party is in a dilemma on whom to field in New Delhi seat from where Kejriwal is seeking re-election this time.
A senior party functionary speaking on the condition of anonymity said Congress is grappling to decide on whether to field a “local or some high-profile” candidate from New Delhi this time.
Asked about the seat, AICC in-charge for Delhi and party MP P C Chacko said, “We have not discussed New Delhi at all.
For all the 46 seats including New Delhi, marathon meetings of the screening committee will begin from tomorrow. The meeting of the CEC will also happen within a week after which names of candidates will be declared on all seats.”
There are indications that the dates for the election, likely to be held in February, may be declared by the Election Commission by January 10 and Congress intends to name its list of candidates before that.
“The first list of candidates has already been released even before the election dates are to be decided. Such early release of candidates' list is happening for the first time,” Chacko said.
The Assembly polls in December 2013 had thrown up a fractured mandate with BJP getting 31 seats and its ally Akali Dal one in the 70-member House.
Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, which had made an impressive debut in last Delhi polls, bagged 28 seats, while Congress was decimated with its tally plummeting to only 8, its worst-ever performance in Delhi.
In the first list, Congress has hence put its bait on trusted and known faces, as it tries hard to regain its lost ground.
Replying to questions about the possibility of the party asking some of its former MPs to contest polls or they themselves offering to do so, Chacko said that a decision on them will be taken by the central leadership.
“Nobody has told the party that they will not contest,” he said when asked about the possibility of Dikshit, AICC general secretary Ajay Maken and others contesting.
Sources say that most of them have not evinced any keenness to fight. Some young former MPs, however, may be asked to contest.
A senior AICC functionary said that while the party has depended mainly on trusted faces in the first list of candidates, there will be more new faces especially of youth and women and intellectuals in the second list, which will also have some “surprise names”.
Replying to a question as to who will be the Congress face for Delhi polls, Chacko said, “The main theme of our campaign will be the failure of both BJP and AAP to deliver. We will fight the polls on the plank of development and stability.”
Neither Congress nor BJP has declared their chief ministerial candidates so far.
In the last Assembly election, Congress had fielded its three-time Chief Minister Dikshit and BJP had declared Harshvardan as its chief ministerial candidate.
Later, Congress supported AAP in government formation but Kejriwal quit as chief minister in February last year over his government's failure to pass the Jan Lokpal bill pushing the state under President's rule.
Banking on Narendra Modi's “wave”, BJP is hoping to increase its tally while AAP, which faced strong criticism after Kejriwal quit as chief minister, is trying to hard to gain its lost ground.
While the view in Congress is that it may not be in a position to form government, it will better its tally from the previous election.
“We hit the bottom rock in the last election. We have only to improve from there,” a party functionary said, claiming that Aam Aadmi Party won't be able to repeat its previous performance.