New Delhi: The Congress today fielded Ajay Rai from Varanasi to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ending speculation on party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra fighting polls from the temple town in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress also fielded Madhusudan Tiwari from Gorakhpur against BJP’s actor-turned politician Ravi Kishan.
Speculation on Priyanka Gandhi making her political debut from Varanasi was fuelled after Congress president Rahul Gandhi, to a question on whether he planned to field his sister against Prime Minister Modi, said last week, “I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing.”
The Congress fielded Ajai Rai against Modi in 2014 as well. He finished third in the contest, after Modi and Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal.
The opposition gathbandhan of Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s BSP also has its own candidate. The Samajwadi Party has named Shalini Yadav, the daughter-in-law of a former Congress lawmaker as the opposition candidate from Varanasi.
Priyanka Gandhi, 47, had said till now that she would contest from Varanasi ‘if the party asks me.’
Since she joined politics in January and was appointed one of the two general secretaries in charge of the Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh, there had been buzz about the party fielding her against Modi.
Priyanka Gandhi was given charge of eastern UP, which includes Varanasi. Her three-day boat campaign last month also ended in Varanasi, and this was read by many as more proof that the Congress was ready to go for broke.
Priyanka Gandhi did nothing to stop the rumours. During an interaction with Congress workers who wanted her to contest from Raebareli, her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, she said: “Why not Varanasi?”
While campaigning in UP, Priyanka Gandhi has often spoken about what she calls Modi’s neglect of Varanasi as he roamed the world. “I was stunned to hear from people in Varanasi that in five years, the PM didn’t get time to go to a single village, visit even one family in his constituency,” she has said in rally after rally, accusing PM Modi of running a government indifferent to the poor.
Varanasi votes 19 May in the last phase of the national elections. The results of the seven-phase polls will be announced on 23 May.