Rahul Gandhi keeps Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat; Priyanka to make electoral debut from Wayanad | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Rahul Gandhi keeps Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat; Priyanka to make electoral debut from Wayanad

By, New Delhi
Jun 18, 2024 04:50 AM IST

Rahul Gandhi to retain Rae Bareli, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to contest Wayanad. Nehru-Gandhi family trio in Parliament if Priyanka wins by-election.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi will retain the family pocket borough of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and vacate the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat in Kerala for his sister and senior leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to make her electoral debut, party chief Mallikarjun Kharge announced on Monday in a significant decision with ramifications for both the Opposition and national politics.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at his residence in New Delhi on Monday. (HT Photo)
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at his residence in New Delhi on Monday. (HT Photo)

If Priyanka wins Wayanad in the by-election that will be held within the next six months, it will be the first time for the Nehru-Gandhi family to have a mother, son and daughter trio — Sonia Gandhi in the Rajya Sabha and Rahul and Priyanka in the Lok Sabha — in Parliament.

Rahul Gandhi won Rae Bareli, a seat held by generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family beginning with Feroze Gandhi in 1952 and last won by Sonia Gandhi in 2019, by roughly 400,000 votes. He also won Wayanad, a seat he first secured in 2019, by 364,000 votes.

“Today we sat and decided Rahul Gandhi should retain his Rae Bareli seat because it has a long relationship with him. Rae Bareli has a close link with his family and for generations, Gandhi family had been fighting from Rae Bareli,” said Kharge, flanked by Rahul, Priyanka and party general secretary KC Venugopal.

“The people of Wayanad, too, want Rahul Gandhi to retain his seat. But the law doesn’t permit so. That’s why, after much deliberation, we decided that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra should fight from Wayanad. Both have agreed,” Kharge added after an hour-long meeting at his residence attended by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul, Priyanka and Venugopal.

The party, however, didn’t disclose if Rahul will be the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. But the 53-year-old leader gave a broad indication when he said that, in the meeting, Kharge had “threatened” him (with action if he doesn’t accept the party’s resolution to be LoP). Priyanka also added that “I have given my advice (on LoP) to him”.

Rahul said it was not an easy decision as he was attached to both places.

“I have an old relationship with Rae Bareli. I am happy that I will represent it again… I was Wayanad MP for the past five years. It was a fantastic experience. The people of Wayanad, cutting across party lines, gave me love and affection. I want to thank them and will remember them forever,” he said.

Priyanka has managed her mother’s campaign since 2004 and in 2019, was appointed general secretary in charge of eastern UP. She also campaigned extensively during the 2022 assembly elections but the party won only two of the 403 seats on offer. This will be her first electoral battle. Like most of the Gandhi family, Priyanka will also make her electoral debut after serving the organisation.

“I am very happy to be able to represent Wayanad and I will not let them feel his (Rahul’s) absence. I will work hard and I will try my best to make everyone happy and be a good representative… I will also help my brother in Rae Bareli. We will both be present in Rae Bareli and Wayanad,” she said.

Both Gandhi siblings insisted that they will simultaneously take care of Rae Bareli and Wayanad.

The decision came days after the Congress posted a relatively strong showing in the Lok Sabha elections, nearly doubling its tally from 52 in 2019 to 99. The broader INDIA bloc also outperformed expectations, winning 233 seats and restricting the Bharatiya Janata Party to 240, below the majority mark of 272 on its own.

Key to this performance was Uttar Pradesh, once considered the BJP’s strongest fortress where the party had won 71 and 62 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 2019, respectively. This time, Congress ally Samajwadi Party emerged as the single-largest party in India’s most-populous state, winning 37 seats compared to the BJP’s 33. The Congress won six seats, including its strongholds of Amethi and Rae Bareli.

“It was simply not possible for Rahul to leave Rae Bareli for political reasons. He is the face of the party and must represent the most politically important state, UP. His presence will further cement the Congress’s ties with Samajwadi Party,” said a senior Congress strategist, requesting anonymity.

Rahul made his electoral debut in 2004 from Amethi but lost the seat in 2019 to former Union minister Smriti Irani. But he won from Wayanad that year.

Priyanka said she was not nervous. “I am very happy. I will work as hard to make everyone happy…I will help bhaiya (brother) in Rae Bareli,” she added.

Rahul said that he was confident of Priyanka’s victory and that she will be a good representative. He also added that he will be a “frequent visitor” in Wayanad and both constituencies will have two members of Parliament.

Kharge heaped praises on Priyanka. “With Priyanka, people will derive courage. She had earlier given a slogan: ‘Main Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ (I am a girl, I can fight). I want to thank her because during difficult times, she stood with us. She worked very hard and won back many seats in UP and the Amethi seat, which was lost, she got it back. She also worked very hard in Rae Bareli and won it.”

Party leaders said that it was the best solution as Rahul, during his recent visit to Wayanad, had said that his decision will make both Rae Bareli and Wayanad happy. His primary opponent in Wayanad, the ruling Left, indicated it will fight the bypoll.

“It is Rahul Gandhi’s choice (that he vacated Wayanad). But he didn’t tell the people of Wayanad that he will fight from Rae Bareli too. He deliberately kept it secret. I heard that the Congress will field Priyanka Gandhi in the bypoll. It is the prerogative of the Congress. But we have been working in Wayanad for many decades. We will talk to our Left allies and decide what to do. We will fight the by-election,” said Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja. In 2024, Rahul defeated Left candidate Annie Raja, who is also Raja’s wife.

Congress leaders argued that Rahul’s decision was in sync with the larger goal of the Congress to improve its strike rate in northern India, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

While Rahul’s presence in Rae Bareli is no guarantee for the party’s revival in the Hindi belt, it brings regional balance in the party where Kharge, Venugopal and chief spokesperson Jairam Ramesh are from south India.

“This was on the expected lines. As soon as Rahul Gandhi decided to fight from Rae Bareli and won it, it was important for him to retain the seat. At the same time, he had to keep Wayanad voters happy and avoid any perception that he used Wayanad for his electoral gains. But I don’t see any correlation between Gandhi keeping Rae Bareli and the Congress’ revival. It is not going to help the Congress in UP,” said Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.

Rahul’s decision also put the spotlight on Rae Bareli, once held by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi between 1967 to 1977. Feroze Gandhi was a two-term MP in 1952 and 1957. In 1980, when Indira Gandhi won both Rae Bareli and Medak in 1980, she left her UP seat and opted for Medak in Andhra Pradesh. 44 years later, both family and national politics appear to have come full circle.

The BJP attacked the Congress for the decision saying it is a clear case of dynastic politics being practised. Party spokesperson Shehzaad Poonawala said, “It proves that the Congress is not a party but a family company.”

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