Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s close aides have advised her to contest from her party’s former bastion of Allahabad, which was renamed Prayagraj last year, according to a senior party functionary aware of the developments.
Even as there is no clarity on whether Priyanka Gandhi, 47, will fight in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there has been some speculation of late that she may contest from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Sunday, she said she will contest from the constituency if her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, asks her to. Priyanka Gandhi’s statement during campaigning in Kerala came days after Rahul Gandhi, in an interview to The Hindu on April 18, refused to rule out the option of his sister taking on Modi in Varanasi.
“She [Priyanka Gandhi] has been advised to contest from Allahabad The party has been traditionally stronger there. Her nomination will have a huge impact on the entire Purvanchal region,’’ the senior functionary cited above said on condition of anonymity.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept eastern UP in the 2014 polls, winning 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. It holds 27 out of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in the region that includes Varanasi. The region will go to the polls in the last three phases of ongoing national elections on May 6, 12 and 19. Polling for the Allahabad Lok Sabha seat will be held on May 12, and April 23 is the last date for filing nominations for it. Varanasi goes to the polls in the last phase on May 19. The last date of filing nominations for the seat is April 29.
The functionary said Rahul Gandhi and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi will eventually take a decision whether Priyanka Gandhi should contest.
Senior leaders, including the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and V P Singh, have represented the Congress from Allahabad and neighbouring Phulpur in Parliament.
This time, the Congress has fielded Pankaj Niranjan Singh Chandel from Phulpur in the 2019 elections. The party’s popularity has waned in the region over the past two decades. Actor Amitabh Bachchan was the last Congress candidate to win from Allahabad in 1984.
The Samajwadi Party, which is contesting the elections in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, has fielded Pandhari Yadav from Phulpur and Rajendra Singh Patel from Allahabad. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has named Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who left the Congress in 2017, as its candidate from Allahabad.
The Congress’s Allahabad president, Anil Dwivedi, said Priyanka Gandhi has been tasked with forming the government in the state by 2022. “Keeping that in mind, it is important for her to contest Lok Sabha elections,” he said. “Since for some time the politics in this region has been in decay and to breathe a new life into it, we want her to contest from here.”
According to a senior Congress leader, the chief priest of Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi and former Banaras Hindu University (BHU) professor Vishambhar Nath Mishra is being considered as a probable Lok Sabha candidate for the Congress.
In 2014, the Congress vote share reduced to 7% in Varanasi with Ajay Rai winning only around 75,000 votes. He finished third after Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and Modi, who won by over 500,000 votes. “The Modi wave has now gone now, there is high unemployment and business have shut down. This will definitely cost them this election,” Rai said.