DC Edit | Rahul’s shift to Rae Bareli pragmatic move by Gandhis?

On the last day of nominations, days after the polling got over in Kerala, including in the constituency of Wayanad, former Congress president and purported leader of the INDIA alliance Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.

Accompanied by his mother Sonia Gandhi, who was the sitting Lok Sabha MP from the constituency till recently, one that has been held by the Gandhi family since 1951, and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Mr Gandhi filed his papers to fight the battle to retain his family bastion. But in the process, against speculation to the contrary, he also rather pragmatically surrendered the Amethi constituency. With Rahul Gandhi stepping aside, the Congress Party selected family loyalist Kishorilal Sharma to contest from Amethi.

With this nomination, the Congress has declared candidates for all the 17 seats it is fighting in the largest state of India. Uttar Pradesh elects 80 MPs to Parliament’s Lower House.

The choice has become contentious, ever since the constituency of Amethi was won by BJP candidate and Union minister Smriti Irani in the 2019 elections. The BJP hit a high with an absolute majority and a score of over 300 seats, as well as a record second consecutive sweep of a victory in UP in the last Assembly elections.

The 2019 win also marked a second major thumping for the Congress, which could not even get enough seats to have a Leader of Opposition in the Lower House.

The Rae Bareli seat is prestigious and the BJP is likely to go all out to try to defeat Rahul Gandhi in a seat that has been held by various members of the party across decades. It has been represented by family loyalists like Arun Nehru, Sheila Kaul and Satish Sharma, among others, besides being the parliamentary seat for Sonia Gandhi.

This development also marks two other sub-plots, the culmination of Sonia Gandhi’s direct electoral career, having chosen to enter the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan earlier, and the decision of the party to not have Priyanka Gandhi Vadra enter the electoral fray. It was earlier speculated that both brother and sister could contest from the two seats, and a Priyanka face-off with Smriti Irani, or a rematch of the BJP leader with Rahul, would have shot the public interest in the political game in UP a notch or two higher.

However, the Congress Party is playing its cards with pragmatic caution, and ensuring the narrative at the centre of the election remains issues and not personalities. The party has bitten the dust by making it a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi fight in the past, and paid a heavy price. This time, as reflected in the decisions not to project a PM face or candidate for the Opposition alliance, or make it about Mr Modi’s personality, the Congress and its partners are trying to both localise, and secularise, the electoral campaign.

So far, no matter how much the BJP is talking about Muslim reservations, or a conspiracy to steal mangalsutras, the Congress is not going beyond the basic issues of farmer incomes, jobs, elections, caste census and inflation. The party would sure hope this pays better dividends.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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