The plan is to finalise all candidates by this month-end. Party sources said meetings of central screening committees for several states have already been held to shortlist the candidates, setting the stage for taking the selection exercise in top gear.

Meetings of the election committees in the states have concluded last month and several Pradesh Election Committees have passed one line resolution authorising party chief Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul to finalise the nominees.

Candidate selection process has been brought on fast track now unlike the practice in recent decades when the nominees were finalised at the last minute. This was done despite it was often found to be counter-productive as candidates hardly found time to reach out to the people.

Lok Sabha elections are likely to be held in April-May and the decision will give at least two months time to the candidates to prepare for the elections.

The candidate selection exercise was made pro-active by the party after the AICC meeting on January 17. Sources said Rahul is keen that candidates are given sufficient time to prepare for the elections.

AK Antony panel entrusted with the task of drawing up an action plan for the party for assembly and Lok Sabha polls few years ago had recommended that the candidates should be declared at least a few months ahead of the elections.

Efforts to implement the recommendation were made many times, including in the recent Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls. However, it could not be done owing to intense rivalry over ticket distribution in the party as well as some apprehension that this could lead to rebel candidates putting up their candidature and getting time to prepare for elections.

Some 50-odd observers, mainly MPs or former MPs, selected by AICC after intense scrutiny have already prepared a separate list of candidates after visiting all 543 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Criteria like denial of tickets to those who have successively tasted two electoral defeats or lost their deposits in the last poll have also been put in place. One of the reasons for the defeat of the party in Madhya Pradesh elections this time has also been attributed to quite late declaration of candidates.

(Agencies)

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