Varanasi: Not Priyanka but Cong's Ajay to take on Modi
New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday ended the suspense over the candidature of Varanasi Lok Sabha seat by declaring Ajay Rai, who placed third in the 2014 election, as the party's nominee for the seat instead of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Notably, Priyanka Gandhi had expressed her willingness to contest from the seat only on the wishes of party president Rahul Gandhi. The seat is currently represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress announced its nominee for the seat on the day PM Modi started a mega roadshow in Varanasi as a prelude to filing his election papers on Friday. The Congress reportedly debated pitting Priyanka Gandhi, often called its 'Brahmastra', against PM Modi but caution won out.
The Millennium Post was the first to report that Priyanka Gandhi would only be fielded from Varanasi if Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati agrees to extend her support as the Samajwadi Party (SP) was 'ready' to withdraw the candidature of Shalini Yadav, whose name was declared by the SP on Tuesday.
Shalini Yadav, the daughter-in-law of a former Congress lawmaker as the opposition candidate from Varanasi.
In 2014, Ajay Rai finished a poor third in Varanasi, with only 75,000 votes. The Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal came second with around two lakh votes. None of them came anywhere close to the Prime Minister's 5.8 lakh.
Priyanka Gandhi had said that till now that she would contest from Varanasi "if the party asks me." Since, she joined politics in January and was appointed one of the two general secretaries in-charge of the Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh, there had been a buzz about the party fielding her against PM Modi.
Priyanka Gandhi was given charge of eastern UP, which includes Varanasi. Her three-day boat campaign last month also ended in Varanasi, and this was read by many as more proof that the Congress was ready to go for broke.
Priyanka Gandhi did nothing to stop the rumours. During an interaction with Congress workers who wanted her to contest from Raebareli, her mother Sonia Gandhi's constituency, she said, "Why not Varanasi?"
While campaigning in UP, Priyanka Gandhi has often spoken about what she calls PM Modi's neglect of Varanasi as he roamed the world. "I was stunned to hear from people in Varanasi that in five years, the PM didn't get time to go to a single village, visit even one family in his constituency," she has said in rally after rally, accusing PM Modi of running a government indifferent to the poor.
Taking a dig at Priyanka after the announcement, BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao claimed that she "chickened out" of the contest after toying with the idea.
"Like brother, like sister. Rahul Gandhi runs away to a faraway constituency and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chickens out of a contest after toying with the idea. Naamdars have already conceded big defeat to the kaamdar PM Narendra Modi ji," the BJP leader said in his tweet. Varanasi votes on May 19 in the last phase of the national elections. The results of the seven-phase polls will be announced on May 23.