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They have been devised as an experiment to divest control of candidate nominations from the Congress’s Delhi leadership (Rahul Gandhi) by handing it to grassroots-level Congressmen. Of the total 15 US-style primaries across parliamentary constituencies in India in the coming weeks, two are to be held in Karnataka. But, in this state at least, instead of narrowing the field of candidates before an election, as a “primary” is meant to do, the process has caused havoc and led to a face-off between two Congress party heavyweights.
Most of the riveting drama revolves around one primary: the Lok Sabha seat of Mangalore in coastal Karnataka, where the field has been suddenly and tardily thrown wide open. Headbutting each other for the nomination are old Congress hand, Janardhana Poojary, and Harsha Moily, the son of Union Minister Veerappa Moily and a political newbie.
In the shortlist of nominations compiled by the state Congress some weeks ago for each of Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha constituencies, Mangalore was one of the exceptions. There, instead of a customary “panel” of candidates prepared for the party high command to choose from, the state party proposed a solitary, undisputed candidate: Poojary. The subsequent announcement of a “primary” in Mangalore and the inclusion of Harsha Moily in the list of contestants has completely fogged up the scenario.
Mangalore is an interesting Lok Sabha segment. It is an urban constituency situated in what is deemed to be a BJP stronghold, the west coast. The Lok Sabha seat was last won by the Congress two-and-a-half decades ago in 1989, when Poojary himself was the victor.
Since then, the BJP has triumphed every single time.
More fascinating are the two main candidates for the Congress’s internal election. Poojary, 76, was a Union minister during the time of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and subsequently a key party functionary in Delhi. His current sidelining is interpreted by some partymen as ageism — Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to clear the party of older, more staid leaders — and by others as Gandhi’s effort to make way for fresh faces.
Poojary’s main opponent, the 42-year old US-educated Harsha Moily, is certainly brand new to politics. The Moily family is from the Dakshina Kannada district, of which Mangalore is a part, and the junior Moily is familiar with the language and geography of the constituency. He is no stranger to grassroots work either, having set up and run MokshaYug Access, an organised