In a clear directive to the All India [ Images ] Congress Committee, Congress president Sonia Gandhi [ Images ] has instructed that Congress Legislature Party leaders, Pradesh Congress Committe presidents and AICC office bearers would not be contesting the forthcoming Lok Sabha as they would be involved in preparing the party for the elections. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi [ Images ] would be the exceptions to this rule. It is being speculated that Pranab Mukherjee [ Images ] who is the PCC president of West Bengal [ Images ] as well as a sitting Lok Sabha MP from the state would also be an exception to this rule, because of his seniority and the myriad responsibilities which he is handling in the United Progressive Alliance [ Images ] government and the party.
This has disappointed a number of senior leaders who were hopeful of contesting the elections and had been spending time in their constituencies. It is now clear that no AICC general secretary would be contesting the election as they are busy with candidate selection as well as the coming battle ahead.
In the meantime the Congress under a 'no surrender' policy evolved by Rahul Gandhi has decided to play tough in all the states where the party is negotiating with prospective and even existing alliance partners. The aim is to bag the largest number of seats possible. After refusing to surrender to Mulayam Singh Yadav [ Images ] on the issue of its senior leaders contesting the elections, the Congress is now focusing on Bihar where its ally Lalu Prasad Yadav [ Images ] has been virtually running the Congress on his terms.
Sources said that the Congress has given Lalu a list of 17 candidates which it wants to field but party leaders say that the Congress would not contest less than 9 seats. Along with these nine, two more seats will be 'needed' if Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Pappu Yadav's [ Images ] father and his Lok Janshakti Paty MP wife Ranjana contest on Congress tickets.
Sources say that a meeting was held Tursday between Sushil Kumar [ Images ] Shinde, Lok Janshakti Party's Ram Vilas Paswan, RJD's Laloo Yadav [ Images ] and the AICC incharge of Bihar, Iqbal Singh where the Congress said it would not contest less than 9 seats. As an alternative, the party has already prepared a list of candidates on all 40 seats and is even talking about going it only with Ram Vilas Paswan if Lalu plays truant.
The Congress is hopeful that Lalu would agree and it would be 9 for the Congress, 12 for the LJP and 18 for the RJD plus one seat for the Nationalist Congress Party with Tariq Anwar keen to contest.
The nine seats which the Congress has listed are Balmikinagar in Champaran from where the Mahatma Gandhi [ Images ] began his movement, Maharajganj, Muzaffarnagar, Madhubani from where Shakeel Ahmed is a sitting MP, Hararia, Purnia, Nalanda where the congress wants the seat for the Janata Dal-United MP who defected during the trust vote, Sasaram from where Meera Kumar is the MP and Aurangabad from where Nikhil Kumar is an MP. Apart from that Supaul is on the list if Ranjeeta Ranjan contests on the congress ticket and Madhepura from where Pappu Yadav's father is likely to contest.
It is learnt that in West Bengal that Sonia's political secretary, Ahmed Patel has returned the list of 14 seats which Mamta Banerjee was offering to the Congress as part of the alliance asking her to redo the list as many of the constituencies were the Left's strongholds.
Sources say that the Congress has prepared a list of candidates on all the seats and is not willing to be fobbed off with seats which it cannot win.
Home Minister P.Chidambaram's googly on the government security agencies unable to handle IPL along with a general election was a clear warning to Sharad Pawar [ Images ] to fall in line in Maharashtra [ Images ] as well as the Congress agenda to "fix" Lalit Modi [ Images ] following on his defeat in the Rajasthan [ Images ] Cricket Association elections, said a Congress leader who is part of the current strategy group.
The thinking is that the allies or prospective allies need the Congress as much as the Congress needs them. A senior leader said that if the congress reverts to the 2004 position in states where their presence was almost non-existent, then "the five years of running a government, doing a great deal of work on the social sector front, unleashing a large number of schemes for various sections and most important of all the entry of Rahul Gandhi into active Congress organizational politics would have been to no avail".
Sources say the Congress needs to show its allies that it is on an upward spiral and "would not surrender its organizational interests" in this round of elections. The Congress is also in a mood to keep its post-poll options open said a senior leader of the party.