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7 April, 2019 11:29:38 AM

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The brother sister dynamic duo boosts Congress

It is unclear whether Priyanka Gandhi will contest the elections though she has made her political debut after being named as Congress general secretary
KUMKUM CHADHA
The brother sister dynamic duo boosts Congress

"My brother, my truest friend, and by far the most courageous man I know. Take care of him Wayanad, he won't let you down."  This was a sister’s sentiment for a brother: both are enviously bonded and both have been in the news for quite some time now.

And both are Gandhis: Rahul and Priyanka: Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi’s children. It was in God’s own country namely Kerala that Congress President Rahul Gandhi sat on a chair facing an election officer. Grinning ear to ear,  he handed over his nomination papers  while his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra clicked away.
Earlier, a  marching band accompanied Gandhi to the government office in Kalpetta, where he filed his nomination. It was a significant day, as Rahul Gandhi was making his electoral debut in the South: a region that has revered the Gandhis beginning from their grandmother Indira Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi is contesting the 2019 polls from Kerala's Wayanad:  one of the two constituencies he has chosen. The other Amethi in Uttar Pradesh has been a Gandhi stronghold since his father, Rajiv Gandhi made it his launching pad electorally. Rahul Gandhi will file his nomination papers from Amethi on April 10. His mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will file her nomination from Rae Bareli a day later: on April 11.

Elections in Amethi and Rae Bareli will be held in the 5th phase of poll on May 6, while the  process of filing of nomination will start on April 10 and will continue till April 18.

It is unclear whether Priyanka Gandhi will contest the elections though she has made her political debut after being named as Party General Secretary.

 There is intense speculation on whether she will carry forward her maiden plunge with Priyanka indicating that she is not averse to contesting the elections: “I have not decided yet. If my party asks me to contest, I will definitely contest,”  Priyanka had  said while campaigning in Amethi.  

 Irrespective, she was by her brother’s side when he flew in to file his nomination papers from Wayanad even as she tweeted about his being a man of courage.   Wayanad, a relatively backward region, is home to Kerala's largest tribal population. Eighteen per cent of the district's vote share is that of tribals. The brother-sister duo was welcomed by a massive crowd of Congress workers and supporters enthusiastically waving  party flags and marking the beginning of Rahul Gandhi's  campaign in Wayanad. Both stood on a truck even as a  marching band heralded their advent amid criticism that Gandhi contesting from two constituencies will send a wrong signal as also indicate that he is not confident of winning from Amethi: a constituency he made his political debut from.

Rahul Gandhi was voted in from Amethi for the first time in 2004 and has continued to represent it ever since.  The BJP lost no time in slamming Gandhi’s Wayanad forays saying that he is “running away” from Amethi because he is unsure of winning the seat. His rival Union Minister Smriti Irani said that Rahul Gandhi had “insulted” Amethi by filing his nomination from a second constituency:  "This is a big sign that a person who has enjoyed power piggybacking on Amethi for 15 years has left Amethi and is filing his nomination today from some other place. Amethi will never forget the insult and betrayal," she said.

Smriti Irani is BJP’s candidate from Amethi and it goes without saying that she is a tough contender. Irani had taken on Gandhi earlier too but despite being defeated she remained connected to the  constituency and kept in touch with the electorate: a factor which is being dubbed as “a strong point” in her favour. Add to that her aggression and the shrill campaign she is capable of can give her opponents a run for their money.

Rahul Gandhi on his part, had another explanation to offer. He said  that he was fighting from Wayanad because"South India feels hostility from Narendra Modi; I wanted to send message, that I am standing with you."

The Congress on its part said that Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad represents three southern states given that it shares its borders with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It was felt that the  party president contesting from a seat in South India will strengthen the party in these states.

The NDA coalition has fielded Thushar Vellapally of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena to take on the Congress president. Wayanad will vote on April 23 and Amethi on May 6. The counting of votes in the staggered national election will be held on May 23.  Rahul is not the first Gandhi family member to go to South to contest. Before him, his grandmother Indira Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi too have fought Lok Sabha polls from South India — Indira from Chikmaglur in Karnataka in 1978 bypoll and from Medak in then Andhra Pradesh in 1980 and Sonia from Bellary in 1999. Both had contested from South because they were unsure of winning from  North India.

A year after she lost the 1977 elections, Indira Gandhi was looking for a safe seat and zeroed in on Chikmaglur in Karnataka.  It was then held by Congress leader D.B. Chandre Gowda but he vacated it for Indira Gandhi. Chikmaglur was then a Congress bastion with all eight assembly seats held by the party and Indira Gandhi won it  by defeating Virendra Patil of Janata Party.  In the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, held right after Emergency, Indira had lost to Raj Narain from Rae Bareli which is now represented by her  daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi.  

In the 1980 mid term polls that followed , Indira Gandhi   again chose to fight from a safe seat in South India besides Rae Bareli.

She then chose Medak in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and now in Telangana. She defeated S Jaipal Reddy, the firebrand Janata Party leader, who later joined the Congress..  

Then Congress president Sonia Gandhi fought 1999 Lok Sabha elections, her first, from Bellary in Karnataka, in addition to contesting from the family constituency of Amethi. Again Bellary was chosen as a safe seat  given that it had been always been represented by Congress politicians since the first Lok Sabha election.  The BJP  field its heavyweight leader Sushma Swaraj, who put up a strong opposition to Sonia. She even managed to learn enough Kannada to address the voters in their native language in her rallies. Sonia managed to win the seat though the victory margin was rather narrow.

Therefore Rahul Gandhi going down south is not the surprise: what is, is the fact that he has chosen to fight from two seats. Therefore the question being asked is: “When his mother and grandmother contested from two seats they were nervous and unsure of winning from their home ground. Is it ditto Rahul Gandhi too?” There are no easy answers except that the man who is challenging the BJP and threatening to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be on a weak wicket and even while it is better to be safe than  sorry and consequently a prudent decision, strategically and electorally it is raising more questions than providing answers.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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