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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

Lok Sabha elections: Rahul Gandhi switches to Rae Bareli, Sonia aide for 'shocked' Amethi

There was no official explanation why Rahul, who had lost from Amethi to Smriti Irani in 2019 after representing the seat thrice since 2004, had changed constituencies

Piyush Srivastava Amethi, Rae Bareli (UP) Published 04.05.24, 05:28 AM
Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli on Friday.

Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli on Friday. PTI picture

Rahul Gandhi will contest the Lok Sabha elections from Rae Bareli and not Amethi while Priyanka Gandhi will not contest at all, shocked Congress supporters learnt here on Friday.

As the party leadership’s decision ended weeks of suspense in the two Nehru-Gandhi pocket boroughs, a sorely disappointed Amethi unit was left licking its wounds and several state-level Congress leaders clammed up.

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Rahul on Friday filed his nomination from Rae Bareli in the presence of mother Sonia Gandhi, sister Priyanka, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot.

Earlier in the day, Sonia’s aide Kishori Lal Sharma — a surprise choice — had filed his papers from Amethi.

There was no official explanation why Rahul, who had lost from Amethi to Smriti Irani in 2019 after representing the seat thrice since 2004, had changed constituencies.

Sonia had represented Rae Bareli from 2004 to 2024 before resigning her Lok Sabha membership and getting elected to the Rajya Sabha in April.

For weeks, local party leaders, workers and supporters in the twin constituencies had virtually agitated for Rahul and Priyanka to be fielded from Amethi and Rae Bareli, respectively. State Congress leaders had been hoping that such a combination would boost the party’s chances across Uttar Pradesh.

Rahul, who held a 1km road show in Rae Bareli after submitting his papers, ignored the media’s questions about the reason for the unexpected development. Priyanka too remained silent.

Irani accused Rahul of running away.

Jairam Ramesh, the Congress communications chief, sought to defend the leadership’s decision with a post on X that was long on rhetoric and short on information.

“Remember, he is an experienced player of politics and chess. The party leadership takes its decisions after much discussion and as part of a larger strategy. This single decision has befuddled the BJP,” Ramesh wrote.

“As far as the Gandhi family is concerned, it is not just Amethi-Rae Bareli, the entire country from north to south is the stronghold of the Gandhi family.”

On Rahul’s shift to Rae Bareli, Ramesh wrote: “Today, Smriti Irani’s only identity is that she contests elections from Amethi against Rahul Gandhi. Now, her political relevance is over…. Smriti Irani will now have to answer about local development: closed hospitals, steel plants and IIITs.”

He added: “This is a long election. There are a few chess moves still left to play. Let’s wait for a bit.”

Irani, the Amethi MP, whose campaign had so far been based largely on Rahul-bashing, continued in the same vein.

“The Gandhi family has accepted defeat even before contesting from Amethi, which had already rejected him (Rahul),” she told a public meeting.

Earlier this week, many Amethi and Rae Bareli residents had told The Telegraph that the Congress would coast through both constituencies if it fielded the Gandhi siblings. On Friday, the sense of dejection in Amethi was palpable although the party faithful largely remained silent.

Mangal Singh, a Rae Bareli resident, said: “Rahul may win against Dinesh Pratap Singh of the BJP from Rae Bareli but it would be very difficult for Sharma in Amethi because, locally, he is considered an office assistance to Sonia and not a politician.”

He added: “I have met Sharma many times and can say with confidence that he would have preferred to contest from Rae Bareli rather than Amethi.”

Sharma has managed Rae Bareli for Sonia for the past 20 years and knows the constituency much better than Amethi, where he had done the honours for Sonia between 1999 and 2004 and briefly for Rajiv Gandhi in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

There had been a rumour as far back as 2006, when Sonia resigned over an office-of-profit controversy, that she wouldn’t contest the Rae Bareli by-election and that Sharma would fill in for her. Some local Congress leaders had accused Sharma of spreading the rumour.

“Sharma began his career as an office assistant to Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s and has remained with the family since then. The Nehru-Gandhis consider him a good, multi-tasking assistant,” a senior party leader in Rae Bareli said, asking not to be quoted.

“However, many people in Rae Bareli blame him for the family’s sliding popularity here. They say that Sharma filters information about Rae Bareli before it reaches the family.”

He added: “Before every Lok Sabha election since 2006, Sharma would spread the rumour that he would be contesting from Rae Bareli. Finally, the rumour has come partly true, but with a twist. When we met him this morning, he was in shock. He wanted to be nominated from Rae Bareli.”

Rae Bareli and Amethi vote on May 20

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