In the frontline: On Rahul Gandhi contesting from Rae Bareli

Rahul Gandhi should have decided to contest from Rae Bareli much earlier

May 06, 2024 12:45 am | Updated 12:45 am IST

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has entered the electoral fray in the Hindi heartland too, ending a prolonged suspense just in time to file his nomination on May 3, in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh. His grandfather, grandmother, and mother were among those who represented this constituency, located around 80 km south-east of the State capital Lucknow. Mr. Gandhi had lost the adjoining Amethi constituency in 2019, even as he won Wayanad in Kerala. He is seeking re-election in Wayanad, and had to decide whether to contest at all from the Hindi heartland and, if so, whether it had to be Rae Bareli or Amethi. He chose Rae Bareli, which was won by his mother Sonia Gandhi in 2019, who is now a member of the Rajya Sabha. A family loyalist has been fielded in Amethi. Mr. Gandhi has been vocal about his liking for Wayanad, and waited for voting there before the candidacy in Rae Bareli was announced. This reeks of a scheme, perhaps unintended, but certainly avoidable. A forthright and early decision would have been more appropriate for his stature, and respectful towards the electorates. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has emerged as an impactful campaigner for the Congress across the country, chose not to contest, while her husband Robert Vadra’s embarrassing public demand for the party ticket has been overlooked by the party, and rightly so.

Mr. Gandhi has declared that resisting the BJP’s Hindutva politics and advancement of social justice are his life’s mission. That battle is being fought primarily in the Hindi belt and the western region of the country. Electorally and ideologically, the BJP derives its strength from those regions. While the BJP is focused in its efforts to expand in the south, the Congress is confused in its strategy to regain its lost glory in the Hindi States. By deciding to contest from Kerala in 2019, Mr. Gandhi made a strategic mistake of seeking refuge in a comfort zone. He had the opportunity to correct it by returning to the tough battle in U.P. this time, but he kept vacillating. Though it has been not done in the best manner, his entry could enthuse the Opposition in U.P. The Congress is in an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in U.P., and the decision of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav to contest the election from Kannauj could also help the alliance. Considering the dominance of the BJP in the Hindi belt, the Congress faces an uphill task. In the event of winning both Wayanad and Rae Bareli, Mr. Gandhi must retain the latter and make it clear that he is in the ideological war with the BJP for the longer term.

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