The hype surrounding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s move to contest from Varanasi turned out to be a damp squib. The suspense around the Congress candidate from Varanasi fizzled with the party renominating Ajay Rai against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The decision left many in Varanasi, who had laid store in the Congress fielding a stronger candidate, disappointed. While some praised the Congress’s decision to not field Priyanka Gandhi against the PM.
Modi, a superstar campaigner for the Bharatiya Janata Party, won the seat in 2014 by nabbing 5,81,022 votes. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal came in second with 2,09,238 votes. Rai, with 75,614 votes, was a distant third.
Here is why Congress did not field Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from Varanasi
– The Congress believes Modi is unbeatable in Varanasi. It has opted not to expend its resources in an unwinnable seat despite itself fuelling speculation that Priyanka could contest. Now the Congress says the idea behind fuelling speculation that Priyanka might contest from Varanasi was to rattle the BJP and it had achieved its objective.
– The Congress has focussed on 18-seats across UP where it says it is putting up a good fight. Interestingly, Varanasi is one of these seats. On rest of the seats, the Congress has fielded candidates with the intent to eat into the votes of the BJP, primarily the Brahmins who are upset with the Yogi Adityanath government, and help the SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan.
The Congress says the party needs Priyanka to campaign in its “winnable” seats for the next four phases, instead of getting bogged down in one seat of Varanasi, which in any case is going to be impossible to win. It believes it has an opportunity to win at least five of the 18-seats, and hopes to win as many as 10. For that, it needs Priyanka to campaign vigorously in these seats, while Congress president Rahul Gandhi campaigns in rest of the country.
– Moreover, a loss by a big margin could hurt Priyanka’s future career. In any case, Priyanka is set to contest from one of the two seats, either Wayanad or Amethi, that Congress president Rahul Gandhi is set to win and subsequently vacate.
– However, the Congress is at somewhat of a loss to explain its decision to field Ajay Rai again. Rai, who has a reputation of being a bahubali, or a strongman, started his electoral career in the BJP, then switching to SP and finally to the Congress.
– In 2014, Rai received a mere 7.2 per cent votes against Modi, with even his community of Bhumihars not supporting him. Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal received 20 per cent of the votes, primarily from minorities. Varanasi witnessed a Hindu consolidation. The Congress believes Kejriwal committed a mistake by contesting against Modi in 2014, which costed him political capital.
Locals say a repeat of the 2014 margin would have been unlikely if the Congress had at least fielded a candidate more acceptable to mahagathbandhan supporters.
As things stand, Varanasi could prove to a no contest with anti-BJP votes set to split between the SP and Congress candidates.
Varanasi goes to polls on May 19.
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