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Rahul Gandhi Moves to Raebareli, Priyanka Opts out, Gandhi Aide KL Sharma Named for Amethi

Rahul Gandhi Moves to Raebareli, Priyanka Opts out, Gandhi Aide KL Sharma Named for Amethi

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 3: The former Congress president Rahul Gandhi moving to neighbouring Raebareli leaving his traditional Amethi seat to the long-time Gandhi family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma and his sister and the party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra opting out of the electoral battle has evoked sneering campaign from the rival BJP that the Congress has accepted defeat even before the polling began.

Addressing election meetings in far-away West Bengal, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi “advised” the Congress leaders “daro mat, bhaago mat,” (Don’t be scared, don’t run away) as Rahul Gandhi accompanied by mother Sonia Gandhi, sister Priyanka, the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and a host of Congress supporters filed his nomination papers for the Raebareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh, the seat held by his mother for the last two decades, just about an hour before nomination closed at 3 P.M. for the seat which, along with Amethi, will go to polls on May 20. Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra was also with Mr Gandhi as he submitted the papers at the district magistrate’s office.

Early this morning, the Congress leadership announced its candidates for two high-profile seats – Amethi and Raebareli. Putting an end to speculation that Mr Gandhi may be fielded from Amethi, a seat he has represented thrice in Lok Sabha.

Rae Bareli is considered one of the safest seats for the Congress. Out of the 20 elections it has witnessed so far, the Congress has won 17. History, however, also records an odd distinction for this seat — Raebareli is the seat from where a sitting Prime Minister lost an election. This was when Indira Gandhi was defeated by Janata Party’s Raj Narain in the 1977 elections after Emergency. Earlier, the seat has been represented by Mr Gandhi’s grandfather and Indira Gandhi’s husband, Feroze Gandhi.

Over the past two decades, the seat has elected Sonia Gandhi. Despite the wave in support of the BJP in 2014 and 2019, this seat stayed with the Congress. Mrs Gandhi has now moved to Rajya Sabha, vacating the prestige seat for her son. In Raebareli, Mr Gandhi is up against the BJP’s Dinesh Pratap Singh, who finished a runner-up in the 2019 election.

Congress’s Amethi pick Mr Sharma is a long-term loyalist of the Gandhi family and has been working as an MP’s representative in the two constituencies for a long time. Congress leaders say he is a grassroots man and hope this will pay off in the polls.

Speaking to the media, Mr Sharma said he has been working in Amethi for 40 years now. “I am very grateful that the Congress has given this opportunity to an ordinary worker like me. I came here in 1987 as a Youth Congress member and from then I have been here. I started my career with Rajiv (Gandhi) ji. In 1987, Rajivji brought me here. Then the circumstances were such that I stayed here.”

Ms Gandhi Vadra praised Mr Sharma and wished him luck. “Kishori Lal Sharma shares a bond with our family. He has been dedicated to serving the people of Amethi and Rae Bareli. His zeal for public service is an example,” she said. “It is heartening that the Congress has named him its candidate from Amethi. His dedication and sense of duty will surely bring him success in this election,” she posted on X.

Kishori Lal Sharma is from Ludhiana in Punjab and has been associated with the Congress for over four decades. He first came to Amethi in 1987 and has been working for the party in the constituency since then.

Party sources say Sharma was a close associate of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. His bond with the Gandhi family grew stronger after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991. KL Sharma, sources say, played a key role in Sonia Gandhi’s first win from Amethi in 1999, which earned her a seat in Parliament. Mr Sharma managed party affairs in Amethi and Raebareli after Sonia Gandhi vacated the seat.

Mr Sharma is up against Union Minister Smriti Irani, who had trumped Rahul Gandhi in the 2019 election. Ms Irani has been camping in the constituency for a while now and has the advantage of a headstart due to the BJP’s early announcement of her candidature. Ms Irani said she has worked very hard in Amethi and has taken a swipe at Mr Gandhi for “conceding defeat before the polls.”

Like Raebareli, Amethi, too, has been a Gandhi family stronghold for years and has been represented by four Gandhis so far — Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Modi mocked at the Congress as the party announced its candidates for Amethi and Raebareli seats on Friday. Mr Modi, who was addressing rallies West Bengal, said Rahul Gandhi had “run away” from Amethi for fear of defeat. “Today I also want to tell him, Daro Mat (don’t be afraid), Bhaago Mat (don’t run),” the Prime Minister sneered. Rahul Gandhi has often said, “Daro Mat” while accusing the BJP government of using probe agencies to terrorise critics and political rivals.

PM Modi didn’t spare Sonia Gandhi either, saying he had predicted that both mother and son would avoid contesting from their seats out of fear. “I had said, their biggest leader will not dare to contest. She will run away out of fear. She ran to Rajasthan and from there entered Rajya Sabha. That is exactly what happened,” he said.

“I had said that shehzade (Rahul Gandhi) is afraid of losing in Wayanad, and the moment voting ends, he will start looking for a third seat. Now even from Amethi, despite all his loyalists saying it, he panicked so much, he ran from there and is now looking towards Raebareli. These people keep going around telling people Daro Mat. Today I will also tell them… ji bhar ke kehta hoon. Arey daro mat, bhaago mat.”

Several BJP leaders seized on the Amethi-Raebareli decision, calling it a dead giveaway that Rahul Gandhi knows he can’t win Amethi, where Smriti Irani is contesting again after her shock win in the last Lok Sabha election.

“A while ago, Rahul Gandhi used to say ‘daro mat, daro mat, daro mat’. Now his fear has taken him from Amethi to Wayanad and from Wayanad to Raebareli – the decision shows where all his fear of defeat is driving him. And the fear is also about whether he could lose both,” said Union Minister Anurag Thakur, who is the BJP’s candidate from Hamirpur.

Another BJP leader, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak, said the people of Raebareli would never accept Rahul Gandhi. “BJP is going to win in Raebareli and Amethi by a huge margin. The people of Raebareli will never accept Rahul Gandhi,” he said.

Raebareli was held by Sonia Gandhi, who became a Rajya Sabha member from Rajasthan last month. As Rahul Gandhi moves to Raebareli, historically one of Congress’s safest seats, his rival is the BJP’s Dinesh Pratap Singh, who lost to Sonia Gandhi by over 1.67 lakh votes in the 2019 polls.

In 2019, Smriti Irani scored a stunning victory from Amethi, a constituency that had always been loyal to the Nehru-Gandhi family. For Rahul Gandhi, the saving grace was his victory in the second seat he contested – Wayanad in Kerala.

The Congress, which is contesting 17 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh as part of its seat-sharing pact with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, kept its Amethi and Raebareli announcement for the last minute as top leaders discussed the possibility of Rahul Gandhi fighting from Amethi and Priyanka Gandhi from Raebareli.

The Congress sources said Mr Kharge had requested Ms Gandhi Vadra to contest from Amethi or Rae Bareli, but she refused. Behind her reluctance, sources said, was the fact that a victory for her and her brother Rahul Gandhi would put three members of the Gandhi family in Parliament — mother Sonia Gandhi is now in Rajya Sabha. This would reinforce the BJP’s charge of dynastic politics, she reasoned, according to sources in the party.

Some leaders, however, fear that her decision may create a negative perception among voters. Ms Gandhi Vadra has been campaigning extensively and has been the face of the Congress’s counterstrike after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘mangalsutra’ charge at the Grand Old party. Many feel that the Congress could have benefited from her star power if she contested the polls.




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