Congress president Rahul Gandhi will file his nomination papers from the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, the second constituency he is contesting apart from his traditional stronghold of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, on Thursday morning.
Accompanied by his sister and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress president got a rousing reception at the Kozhikode international airport on Wednesday night.
Police and special protection group personnel had a tough time keeping the crowd under check. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi finally left the airport through a special gate.
“The Congress chief will embark on a two-hour road show before filing the nomination papers at 11am,” state opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said.
Congress general secretaries KC Venugopal and Mukul Wasnik are camping in the district to oversee arrangements. Party leaders said Rahul Gandhi will visit Wayanad again once or twice for campaigning after filing his nomination papers, adding Priyanka will canvass in the constituency for a couple of days.
They said since Rahul Gandhi is busy campaigning in other parts of the country, leaders have advised him to not spend too much time in a relatively safer constituency.
According to party leaders, the Congress president’s entry has electrified the poll scene in the state.
Political pundits say Rahul Gandhi’s selection of Wayanad constituency, a strategically important trijunction in Kerala which shares borders with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, will help the Congress to consolidate its position in the south and pip the BJP’s possible advantage in north India.
In Wayanad, Gandhi is taking on Communist Party of India’s (CPI’s) PP Suneer and National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) Thushar Vellapally. Vellappally is the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) president and his party has an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala.
The BJP is planning to rope in many national leaders for its campaign in the constituency. Top among them is Union minister Smriti Irani, Gandhi’s main rival in Amethi. Irani is likely to campaign for NDA’s Wayanad candidate Vellapally for two days, party leaders said.
Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest the Lok Sabha election 2019 from Wayanad in Kerala has angered the Communist Party of India(Marxist), which is on a sticky wicket ever since his arrival in the state.
Not impressed by Rahul Gandhi’s choice, Left parties are planning to rake up the Gadgil and Kasturirangan expert committee reports on the Western Ghats to allegedly embarrass the Congress.
The Union environment ministry had set up an expert team under famous conservationist Madhav Gadgil in 2010, following an uproar that the Western Ghats, a UNESCO world heritage that plays an important role in breaking rain clouds over the subcontinent, was shrinking due to human incursions.
When he submitted the report all six states falling under the Ghat region – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat – opposed it and another committee was constituted under former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief Kasturirangan.
Many areas of Wayanad and Idukki, two mountainous districts of the state, had witnessed widespread protests in 2013 and 2015 over these reports.
Kasturirangan had made some changes in the zonal classification and reduced ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) to 37% from 64%. Most of the states opposed the report this time as well, saying people living near forests will be thrown out if these recommendations were implemented.
Addressing party workers in Kozhikode, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the Congress was first to introduce neoliberal policies in the country and tried to implement the Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports, which would have evicted a large number of people living in fringe areas of forests.
“These panels were appointed during the Congress-led UPA regime,” he said.
The CPI(M) has taken a consistent position from the beginning opposing these reports vehemently. Party leaders said since a major portion of the constituency falls under the Ghat region they will take up the issue in a big way.
“We will take these reports to people,” said Wayanad district secretary PP Gagarin.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) is also planning a high voltage campaign in the district to contain a possible Rahul wave, party leaders said.
Kerala is going to the poll in the third stage of the seven-phase Lok Sabha election on April 23 and the last date for filing nominations is April 4. The votes will be counted on May 23.