Rahul Gandhi led-Congress on Thursday announced Ajay Rai’s name as its candidate from Varanasi against PM Narendra Modi for the Lok Sabha election 2019. Congress party through a tweet announced Ajay Rai’s name for Varanasi constituency, which means Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will not contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The big announcement has arrived on the day when PM Modi launched his election campaign in the city. PM Modi is also doing a roadshow in Varanasi to woo the voters and on Friday, he will file his election papers. 

Announcement also ended speculation about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s candidature from Varanasi. Several times over Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had told the media that she would contest elections even from Varanasi if the party had asked her to. While the Congress has maintained that Priyanka is working to improve the party’s 2022 UP Assembly election chances, the frequent bites from Priyanka had indicated that she will contest from Varanasi, which is in East UP – the zone she is a general secretary for.

Reacting to the big announcement, Delhi Congress chief and former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit said that it would have been better for the party if Priyanka Gandhi would be the party’s candidate. 

Even Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav had said in an interview to TRT World that the Congress outreach this late into the Lok Sabha campaign would not work for these polls and could be to rebuild party presence in the state ahead of 2022.

In the tweet, Congress also mentioned Madhusudan Tiwari’s name for Gorakhpur constituency. 

Despite Priyanka not contesting from Varanasi, she is expected to add her heft for the campaign. Social media decried Congress for giving up on the fight for Varanasi. Many said Priyanka and Rahul have chickened out of the contest and showed the party’s inability to take on the Narendra Modi-led BJP head-on. In 2014, PM Modi won by 3,71,784 votes against the divided opposition which saw Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal contest as did Ajay Rai of the Congress.

PM Modi and Ajay Rai will also have to contend with the Samajwadi Party nominee Shalini Yadav, the daughter-in-law of former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Shyam Lal Yadav. The divided opposition again could see the PM finding it easier than a cakewalk this time.

Ajay Rai is a Varanasi native who has had political stints in several parties. He began with Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the BJP’s youth wing, and was the BJP MLA from Kolasla for three Assembly terms from 1196-2007. He then joined the Samajwadi Party and contested against BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi and lost, coming third after Mukhtar Ansari. Rai wields considerable influence in the city along the Ganga due to his early days as a strongman arrayed against Ansari.

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