News Analysis | Will Congress pick ‘experience’ over ‘emotion’ while choosing Maharashtra Rajya Sabha byelection candidate?


Local party leaders prefer veterans who can take on the BJP rather than rookie Pradnya Satav

The demise of sitting Congress Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Satav from post-COVID-19 complications in April this year has left a void in the party leadership at the national level as well as in Maharashtra.

Satav, a member of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC), was considered a mainstay of his party in the State’s Vidarbha and Marathwada regions besides being a close aide of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

An able Youth Congress president, Satav was a good orator and as the general secretary in-charge of Gujarat election in 2017, the Congress had put up a spirited fight to emerge a creditable second, winning 77 to the 99 seats of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Now, with the Rajya Sabha byelection slated for October 4, sympathies lie strongly with his wife Pradnya Satav, who, according to sources, has been lobbying hard for the seat.

 

Yet, a section of the regional and local party leadership feels that the paucity of experienced leaders within Congress ranks in the Upper House will be a critical factor in choosing a candidate and that awarding the candidacy of the seat to a rookie like Ms. Satav over a veteran could prove a mistake.

Given that the party has a mere 33 members as opposed to the BJP’s 94, every seat counts and candidates have to be chosen judiciously, feel a section of the party’s regional leadership.

“Prior to her husband’s untimely death, Ms. Satav was never active in politics. she has to work and prove her mettle. In that sense, it could send a wrong message to the party rank and file if a political neophyte like her was chosen over veterans. Given the party’s perilous hold in the State and at the national level, we need a combative leader who can corner the BJP in the Upper House,” said a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity.

An analyst observed that Ms. Satav has already been appointed party vice-president in Maharashtra State Congress Committee (MPCC) to enable her to learn the ropes.

“The Congress has to choose its candidate judiciously. It needs a leader capable of taking on the BJP in the Upper House. With P. Chidambaram retiring in July next year and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s term already over, one needs experienced leaders to navigate the party through the tumult in State and the national level,” he said.

Strong contenders

While a number of veterans, including former Union Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Sanjay Nirupam, are believed to be eyeing the seat, AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik and former Rajasthan party in-charge Avinash Pandey are believed to be the strongest contenders in the fray for the Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra.

Yet another section within the party’s leadership believes that former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who represents the Karad South Assembly seat in Satara district, would be a major asset for the party in the Rajya Sabha.

“Mr. Chavan, who has an intellectual bent of mind, not only has wide political experience but has been taking the Modi government head-on over a number of economic issues in the recent past. He is an extremely articulate speaker who would be the ideal choice to take on the BJP in the Rajya Sabha,” said a Congressman from western Maharashtra.

He said that while the Congress is generally strong in the Vidarbha region, in the event that Mr. Chavan was considered for the RS seat, then a younger face may be given a chance in Satara to fill in for Mr. Chavan to help check the growth of the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party and the BJP in the region while promoting a younger leadership within the party.

Mr. Wasnik, too, compares favourably with the other candidates: an important backward community face within the Congress, he has remained an active player in the politics of Vidarbha and within the Congress’ organisational structure at the national level, emerging as a dependable organisation man who has the approval of Sonia Gandhi.

On the other hand, notwithstanding Mr. Pandey’s strong skills as an organisation man, his alleged failure to handle the ‘rebellion’ led by Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, which eventually led to Mr. Pandey’s removal as party in-charge for Rajasthan, may go against his candidature and give Mr. Wasnik an edge, feel some observers.

“He [Mr. Wasnik] held the Union Parliamentary Affairs portfolio and served as Social Justice and Empowerment in the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance. He has also served as junior Minister for Education in the past and been the MP for the Ramtek and Buldhana Lok Sabha constituencies at certain times. So, that is a diverse portfolio which primes Mr. Wasnik as a strong contender for the vacant Rajya Sabha seat,” said an election watcher from Pune.

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