The Wall Street Journal
New Delhi

India’s ruling-Congress party has decided to test the knowledge of hopefuls who wish to contest assembly elections due later this year.

A five-page application form, prepared by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party’s vice president, requires ticket-seekers to answer questions mostly related to social, political and demographic issues in the constituency where the applicant hopes to contest elections.

Assembly elections are due later this year in the states of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, Rajasthan, in the west, Chhattisgarh, in the east, Delhi in the north and Mizoram in the north east.

Aspirants will be asked to give details about their personal background including caste and assets, whether they have a criminal record or any business background, Congress party lawmaker, Madhu Goud Yaskhi, told India Real Time Tuesday. He added that caste would not be a deciding factor in choosing candidates.

They’ll also have to detail whether they have previously contested elections, give a statement of purpose and their social and political achievements in the designated constituency, In addition, they will have to explain if they were ever suspended from the party or quit themselves, said Mr. Yaskhi.

“This is the democratic way of shortlisting candidates,” Mr. Yashki added. “The response will allow assessors to evaluate personality traits and other aspects of the potential candidate and open the party’s gates for anyone with a clean background,” he said.

The application form will be filled in by Congress party observers – office bearers at the local, district and state levels – according to information given by party ticket-seekers. Once the form is completed and submitted, it will be closely studied by the Congress party’s local-level officers who will then send their recommendation to the party’s central leadership.

The Congress party’s state units will have a “decisive say” in the selection of candidates since “they know the candidates’ merit better” than the party’s leaders at the national level, Mr. Yashki said.

For this, Congress is training its team of local leaders across the country by organizing workshops on different issues, Mr. Yashki said.

The program comes against the backdrop of a recent order by India’s Supreme Courtthat disqualified politicians from contesting national and state elections from prison.

nationwide survey conducted in July by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based advocacy group for transparency in governance, showed nearly one-third of members of the lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha, and an almost equal number of state legislators, have criminal cases, including kidnapping, robbery, murder and rape, pending against them.

Mr. Yashki said the application forms are “just one of the party’s ideas to make the selection process more transparent.”

Still, political experts and opposing parties are doubtful this will deter aspirants from influencing local leadership in the selection process.

“The idea is good. But much of it will depend on how the party manages to objectively evolve a method that ensures transparency,” said Navnita Chadha Behera, professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.

She said there would be “layers of intermediaries” within the party, with a greater say in selection of candidates. “The biggest challenge will be how honest these people remain in choosing the right candidates,” Ms. Behera said.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party dismissed it as an “unrealistic” program.

“This type of exercise cannot help a party that has been in power for last nine years and achieved nothing,” BJP’s vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told India Real Time Tuesday.

Moreover, “selection of a particular candidate does not ensure he is going to win elections,” Mr. Naqvi added.

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