New Delhi: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi is likely to challenge prime minister Narendra Modi in the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency on behalf of a grand alliance of opposition parties. Gandhi, who has assumed charge of the party’s campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is learned to have suggested the idea to senior leaders herself.
Her mother Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of the opposition alliance, and brother Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress, are likely to take a final decision on the proposal, sources in the party said.
The party has not officially deliberated on the candidature of the latest entrant from the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Though Rahul Gandhi has suggested that the party was all for her candidature, the matriarch is not so keen on the idea. Party leaders feel that Priyanka Gandhi is their best shot to take on Modi in Varanasi, where the BJP leader Modi beat AAP chairman and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal by 3.71 lakh votes in 2014. Varanasi goes to poll on May 19.
A powerful combine of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal has not put its candidate in Varanasi so far. The seat has been assigned to the SP but it might elect to back the Congress in a goodwill gesture. The Congress has not put up a candidate against the SP chairman Akhilesh Yadav in Azamgarh.
Some of the Congress leaders even claimed that Priyanka Gandhi could wrest the seat from Modi. Win or not, her challenge is sure to energise the party cadre throughout Uttar Pradesh. She would be successful in confining Modi to his constituency rather than tour the country as a star campaigner for the BJP-led alliance. She could eat into the upper caste vote bank of Modi even while drawing from the support of the Muslim community.
Modi may be forced to contest from another constituency to be on the safer side and forced to soften the party’s tirade against Rahul Gandhi’s decision to run from Kerala’s Wayanad apart from his home turf of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Congress workers had been clamouring for Priyanka Gandhi to take over her mother’s pocket borough of Rae Bareily. She is learned to have proposed Varanasi in turn. She had toured Varanasi as part of her campaign through Uttar Pradesh.
Firebrand dalit leader Chandrasekhar Azad could withdraw his candidature in favour of Priyanka Gandhi. Joining the Bhim Army chief on the candidates’ list are former Kolkata high court judge C S Karnan, who was sent to jail for criticising the Supreme Court, Tej Bahadur Yadav, who was dismissed from the Border Security Force for complaining of poor food served for the personnel, and Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, the mahant of the Sankat Mochan Temple at Varanasi and a professor of the Benaras Hindu University.
Also in the fray is Abhinandan Pathak, who bears close resemblance to Modi’s. Pathak had campaigned for Modi last time but said later that he was peeved by the way the prime minister reneged on poll-time promises.
BJP leader Shanavas Hussain said that the party was not bothered by the other candidates.
“Narendra Modi will win by a huge margin,” he said.