Rahul takes UP plunge, this time from Rae Bareli | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Rahul takes UP plunge, this time from Rae Bareli

May 04, 2024 03:09 AM IST

Rahul Gandhi files nomination from Rae Bareli, ending suspense. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra opts out of Amethi. BJP claims Rahul fled. Congress strategizes for UP.

Rae Bareli/Amethi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi files his nomination for the Lok Sabha elections in Rae Bareli on Friday. (PTI)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi files his nomination for the Lok Sabha elections in Rae Bareli on Friday. (PTI)

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday returned to the Lok Sabha fray in Uttar Pradesh by taking the poll plunge from pocket borough Rae Bareli but his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra refrained from contesting from erstwhile stronghold Amethi, ending a weeks-long suspense over the two high-profile seats considered the party’s best chance at winning in India’s most populous state.

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The decision sparked a political controversy with the Congress saying it was a well-strategised move that will help the party find its footing in Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Rahul Gandhi had fled from Amethi .

Rahul Gandhi filed his poll papers from Rae Bareli, a seat held by his mother Sonia Gandhi since 2004 and the only one the Congress won in the state in 2019, marking the entry of the third generation of the Gandhi family in the electoral battlefield of this high-profile constituency that was represented by his grandparents and mother for 38 years.

ALSO READ | Why Congress fielded Rahul Gandhi from Rae Bareli

A jubilant crowd greeted Rahul Gandhi, who arrived at the Fursatganj air strip with Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her husband Robert Vadra, less than four hours after his name was announced.

“Filing nomination from Rae Bareli was an emotional moment for me! My mother has entrusted me with the responsibility of the family’s workplace with great confidence and given me the opportunity to serve it,” Rahul Gandhi said on X.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal, Telangana chief minister Revanth Reddy, former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and a battery of party leaders joined Gandhi.

In Amethi, the party fielded family loyalist KL Sharma, who will take on the incumbent Smriti Irani.

Rahul Gandhi lost from Amethi to Smriti Irani in 2019, but won from Wayanad in Kerala — a seat he is contesting this time as well.

ALSO READ | BJP takes 'last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar' jibe at Rahul Gandhi over Rae Bareli move

“Amethi and Rae Bareli are not different for me, both are my family and I am happy that Kishori Lal ji, who has been serving the area for 40 years, will represent the party from Amethi. In the ongoing fight for justice against injustice, I seek the love and blessings of my loved ones. I am confident that all of you stand with me in this fight to save the Constitution and democracy,” he said on X.

In Amethi, Sharma filed his nomination accompanied by local Congress leaders. Earlier in the day, Priyanka Gandhi and former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot reached the local Congress office and urged the workers and public to vote for Sharma.

Sharma, a resident of Ludhiana in Punjab, has worked as a representative of former Amethi parliamentarians Rajiv Gandhi, Satish Sharma, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

“The people of Amethi are in my heart. I have been here for 40 years. I am following what has been directed to me by the top leadership. I just want people to give me a chance in their service.”

The twin decisions cap weeks of suspense building around the seats in central Uttar Pradesh that have functioned as pocket boroughs of the Gandhi family for close to half a century. Both seats go to the polls on May 20. In Amethi, the BJP has nominated incumbent MP Smriti Irani, who defeated Rahul Gandhi by 55,000 votes in 2019. In Rae Bareli, the BJP named UP minister Dinesh Pratap Singh as its candidate on Thursday. Singh filed his papers hours before Rahul Gandhi on Friday.

ALSO READ | If Rahul Gandhi wins both Wayanad, Raebareli...: Annie Raja questions 'injustice'

According to Congress insiders, the party leadership was keen to field Priyanka Gandhi from Amethi but she opted to campaign across the country, which she is doing for the first time.

“A few days ago, mother had said, “My family is incomplete in Delhi. It becomes complete after coming to Raebareli.” Such a family which has included many generations; which has stood with us like a rock in every ups and downs, happiness and sorrow, crisis and struggle for decades. This is a relationship of affection and trust. It is also a relationship of service and faith which has remained unbroken for half a century,” Priyanka Gandhi said on X.

Congress’s communications head Jairam Ramesh described Rahul Gandhi as “an experienced player of politics and chess”.

“The party leadership takes its decisions after much discussion, and as part of a larger strategy. This single decision has befuddled the BJP, its supporters, and its sycophants. The BJP’s self-proclaimed Chanakya, who used to talk about ‘paramparagat seat’ is now not sure how to respond,” he posted on X.

Rae Bareli was first represented by Feroze Gandhi in 1952 and 1957. His wife and then PM Indira Gandhi won it in 1967, 1971 and 1980. Arun Nehru won it in 1980 and 1984. Sheila Kaul, Indira Gandhi’s aunt, represented the seat in 1989 and 1991.

In the wake of the Emergency in 1977, Janata Party’s Raj Narain defeated Indira Gandhi in one of India’s biggest electoral upsets. The BJP’s Ashoke Singh won in 1996 and 1998. Gandhi family aide Satish Sharma won it in 1999 and since 2004, the seat has been represented by Sonia Gandhi. Earlier this year, Sonia Gandhi decided to move to the Rajya Sabha.

A festive mood gripped Rae Bareli as Rahul Gandhi arrived to fight the polls. From a shopkeeper to a group of lawyers in the district court, many local residents mentioned the strong emotional bond between the constituency and the Gandhi family. “I am 80 years old now. I have seen all candidates Feroze Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi,” said Lakshman Pandey, a store owner. “All development works in Rae Bareli have been done by Gandhi family only.”

The Gandhis have a similar storied relationship with the Amethi seat, which was formed in 1967, and which has been represented by either a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, or their associates since 1980 (except between 1998 and 1999) till Irani defeated Rahul Gandhi in 2019.

The family members who have represented Amethi are Rahul Gandhi, his father Rajiv Gandhi, mother Sonia Gandhi, and uncle Sanjay Gandhi.

“KL Sharma has experience of working in the area. He used to take care of the people’s issues in the absence of Gandhi family members who have represented the constituency,” said Tipu Sultan, 31, a resident of Gauriganj, Amethi.

The BJP took potshots at the Gandhi family.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rahul Gandhi had sensed “defeat” in Wayanad. “When their senior leader quit her Lok Sabha seat and entered Parliament through Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan, it was evident they sensed defeat,” he said, in an apparent dig at Sonia Gandhi.

“Now, the shehzada (prince) of Congress, who went to Wayanad after losing the Amethi seat, is also contesting from Rae Bareli. He knows he will lose Wayanad this time,” Modi said.

Union home minister Amit Shah said Rahul Gandhi will lose Rae Bareli. “Rahul Baba, I’m telling the result of Rae Bareli from here. Against BJP’s candidate Dinesh Pratap Singh, you will lose by a huge margin. Write down my words.” Union defence minister Rajnath Singh said Rahul Gandhi had left the battleground.

Irani said that the Gandhis’ absence from the electoral fray in Amethi indicated that the Congress had accepted defeat. “Gandhi family not being present in the election fray in Amethi indicates that Congress has accepted its defeat in Amethi even before the polling on the seat,” she said.

Criticism also came from the Left, which is fighting Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad.

“In our democracy, one person can contest on more than one seat... But this is unjust to the voters of Wayanad because he never intimated to the voters of Wayanad that he intends to contest another seat... It is about political morality...,” said Annie Raja, the Left’s candidate against Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad.

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