Varanasi: The Congress on Thursday announced the candidature of former MLA Ajay Rai from Varanasi to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the prestigious constituency.
The decision ends speculation that Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi may be fielded in Varanasi. Ajay Rai had also contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi and had ranked third with over 75,000 votes, behind AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.
A Bhumihar by caste, Ajay Rai wields considerable influence over his community in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Party leaders say he is the best bet for the Congress in the region. Congress also announced Madhusudan Tiwari as it candidate from Gorakhpur against BJP’s Ravi Kishan, a popular Bhojpuri film star.
Speculation on Priyanka Gandhi making her electoral debut from Varanasi had been rife for the past few weeks and was fuelled after Congress president Rahul Gandhi, to a question on whether he planned to field his sister against PM Modi, said last week, “I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing.”
The Samajwadi Party on April 22 declared Shalini Yadav, who joined the party that evening, as its candidate from Varanasi.
After years of working in Congress backrooms, Priyanka Gandhi joined full-time politics in February as in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, hoping to change the party’s fortunes in the ongoing Lok Sabha election.
Varanasi constituency will go to the polls in the last phase on May 19. With the announcement of the two seats, the Congress has named candidates for 424 seats in all.
Prime Minister Modi will file his nomination papers for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat on April 26 in the presence of senior National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders, including Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.
In 2014, Modi won the seat by a margin of over three lakh votes against AAP leader Kejriwal. While Modi got over 5.8 lakh votes, Rai managed about 75,000 votes.
(With Agency Inputs)