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2-min read

No Priyanka Gandhi vs PM Modi Clash as Congress Repeats Ajay Rai From Varanasi

Ajai Rai, a local strongman from the Bhumihar community, had joined the Congress in 2009 after he won a by-election from Kolasla assembly constituency as an independent, months after being denied a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP and joining the Samajwadi Party.

News18.com

Updated:April 25, 2019, 4:29 PM IST
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Lucknow: After weeks of stoking speculation of a Priyanka Gandhi versus Prime Minister Narendra Modi poll battle, the Congress has decided to field its old guard and five-time MLA Ajay Rai from the all-important constituency of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

The announcement, on a day when the Prime Minister is holding a mega roadshow in the temple town, has come as a damp squib as the party had itself built suspense around the mega clash with statements from Priyanka Gandhi herself and from Congress chief Rahul Gandhi creating the hype.

In the end, however, caution won out as the party repeated its 2014 candidate from the seat, despite him coming a distant third to Modi and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal five years ago.

He had polled a little over 75,000 votes in the previous general elections in comparison to over 5.8 lakh polled by Modi and close to 2.1 lakh by Kejriwal.

The hype around Priyanka Gandhi’s candidature was started by her nearly a month ago, when she first teased the contest during an interaction with party workers. Since then, repeated statements from her that a decision would be taken by her brother Rahul Gandhi have only led to the excitement reaching a fever pitch, only to end in a hoax.

Last week, when Rahul Gandhi was asked whether he planned to field his sister against PM Modi, he replied, "I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing."

The Congress general secretary, in charge of the campaign in eastern UP – which includes Varanasi – had also taken a boat ride to the temple town and has repeatedly sought to pit herself directly against Modi, further leading to speculation.

It seems that the party arrived at the decision to not field her after much deliberation as Rai only learnt that he would contest recently. "There were talks of Priyanka Ji contesting from Varanasi, but I just got a call to contest. It is the party high command that takes these decisions. We (party workers) were ready for Priyanka Ji to contest," he told News18.

The delay in the announcement is also likely to hamper the party’s chances of mounting any decent challenge to the PM as the party’s workers were hopeful she would contest and the decision would affect their morale. The Congress cadre had also not kicked into poll mode as they waited for the leadership to take a call.

Rai, a local strongman from the Bhumihar community, had joined the Congress in 2009 after he won a by-election from Kolasla assembly constituency as an independent, months after being denied a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP and joining the Samajwadi Party.

In 2012 after the Kolasla assembly was dissolved, Rai contested the assembly elections from Pindra and won. Post this, in 2017 too, Rai contested from Pindra but lost this time as BJP swept the state.

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