Home / Lok Sabha Elections / Lok Sabha Elections 2019 /  Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad as Congress looks to expand in south

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU : Ending days of speculation, Congress on Sunday announced that party president Rahul Gandhi will contest from the Wayanad parliamentary seat in Kerala for the Lok Sabha elections. For the first time, Gandhi is going to contest from a seat that is outside the family bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh—from where his candidature was announced in the party’s first list of candidates.

Congress’s move to field Gandhi from a second seat comes at a time when the party is aiming to recover lost ground and expand its electoral footprint in southern India.

“There was a demand from all the three southern states—Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka—and since Wayanad is like the central point for all three, it has been decided that Rahul Gandhi will also contest from Wayanad Lok Sabha seat in Kerala," former Union minister A.K. Antony told reporters at the party’s New Delhi headquarters on Sunday. Incidentally, the announcement came on a day when Gandhi was visiting Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The announcement, however, comes with the risk of handing over more political ammunition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), besides throwing a spanner in the works of the anti-BJP opposition’s dynamics by upsetting the incumbent Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, in Kerala.

“In Tamil Nadu, we are only a junior partner. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, we are not a big force. The only ones remaining are Karnataka and Kerala. A safe seat has been an important consideration. Also, we needed a seat where we could do only a few rallies and still win, as Gandhi has to extensively tour across India," said a senior Congress party leader from Kerala.

Gandhi is following in the footsteps of his grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, who contested and won from Karnataka’s Chikmagalur in 1978 and Medak in 1980 (to buck the anti-Emergency wave), and his mother and former party president Sonia Gandhi, who had won from Bellary in Karnataka in 1999.

With the southern states accounting for 130 out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, it is a high-stakes contest for the Congress. In 2014, it had won only 19 seats from the south. In 2019, Congress will contest 10 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) and 20 in Karnataka in partnership with the Janata Dal (Secular), besides going alone in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Congress leads the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala.

“A contest in southern India by the party president was in the works for the past few months. There is a view that it would help the party shape its southern narrative and realign campaign focus in the region. While BJP leaders too in the past have contested in two seats, Gandhi has chosen a ‘strong’ state with a ‘safe’ seat, where it is not in direct contest with the BJP. We will have to be careful with any fallout of not just with how the BJP pitches this in Uttar Pradesh, but also how Left parties attack us in Kerala," a senior party leader said, requesting anonymity.

Both the BJP and CPM did not waste any time to attack Gandhi over the move. BJP president Amit Shah accused Gandhi of ‘fleeing’ to Kerala because ‘voters of Amethi will seek an account’ of his work. A sharper attack, however, came from CPM leaders who said their party would ensure Gandhi’s defeat. “Their priority now is to fight against the Left in Kerala. It goes against the Congress’s national commitment to fight the BJP, as in Kerala, it is the LDF, which is the main force fighting the BJP," CPM’s politburo member Prakash Karat told reporters.

Earlier in the day, Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters that the attacks by the BJP were “immature and to deflect attention from important issues". 

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