The Perks of Rahul Gandhi Contesting From Rae Bareli and Priyanka Opting Out

The battle for Rae Bareli and Amethi is a make-or-break one and they would have mulled it over from every angle.

4 min read

Gandhi family watchers are not surprised that Rahul Gandhi has opted to fight from Rae Bareli instead of Amethi and that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has chosen to stay out of the Lok Sabha race.

The twin decisions are probably smart moves as evident from the fact that the Congress party has won this round of the perception battle on two counts:

  • One, it is dominating the headlines, having successfully kept the suspense alive till the very end.

  • Two, it has caught the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) off guard, leaving Rahul Gandhi’s chief baiter in Amethi, Union Minister Smriti Irani, quite deflated at the prospect of fighting a virtual nonentity like K L Sharma whose only claims to fame are that he is a Gandhi loyalist and a local.

The BJP's response was predictable and repetitive. It merely intensified its vilification campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself jumping in to mock Rahul Gandhi by saying, "Daro mat, bhago mat (don’t be scared, don’t run away)."

However, the Gandhis have too much at stake in their family bastions to be scared off by a few taunts. The battle for Rae Bareli and Amethi is a make-or-break one for them. They would have mulled it over from every angle before arriving at a well-considered strategy to retain the first and reclaim the second.


The Gandhis are Looking at the Bigger Picture

Before the final decision, Sonia Gandhi is believed to have held lengthy consultations with Congress leaders and workers from Rae Bareli and Amethi. They told her that both siblings must contest. The people of the area expect it, they said.

They also assured her of victory for both if brother and sister entered the battlefield. It is our responsibility to ensure they win, the leaders told Sonia Gandhi.

Their assessment was borne out by a dozen-odd internal surveys conducted by the family and party.

The surveys are believed to have revealed an undercurrent of sympathy for Rahul Gandhi in Amethi with voters expressing regret for booting him out in 2019 after electing him for three terms before that.

The view from Rae Bareli and Amethi is quite different to the one from Delhi. Ultimately, the latter seems to have prevailed, with the Gandhis choosing to look at the bigger picture.

Meanwhile, the campaign is getting sharply polarised and the discourse is increasingly dripping with venom and disinformation from both sides. Since Modi’s and the BJP’s primary targets are the Congress and the Gandhis, the family cannot afford to get bogged down in the UP heartland just to protect its fiefdom.

There are two distinct advantages to the twin decisions that Rahul Gandhi will fight from Rae Bareli and Priyanka Vadra will not contest at all. One, there is little doubt that Rae Bareli is an easier contest than Amethi.

Since 1967, when Indira Gandhi first contested from the Rae Bareli constituency, it has always been won either by a family member or a proxy (like close family friend Satish Sharma). The Congress lost the seat only thrice, once when Indira Gandhi was defeated in the post-Emergency election of 1977 and two other times when no family member was available to contest.

While Amethi is also a family bastion, it is not as loyal to the Gandhis as Rae Bareli. Victory margins for the Gandhis have been lower here than in Rae Bareli and Rahul Gandhi’s loss in 2019 to Smriti Irani shook him badly.

Given this history, standing from Rae Bareli will reduce the pressure on Rahul Gandhi. He would have been compelled to devote more time to Amethi had he decided to make a bid to reclaim his old seat.


The Gandhis Have Taken a Calculated Gamble

The second advantage is that by not joining the electoral fray, Priyanka Vadra is now free to continue with her nationwide campaign. She is turning out to be the most effective campaigner for the Congress. She is one of the few Congress leaders who comes up with feisty ripostes to Modi’s salvos. Her counter to his mangalsutra jibe is believed to have gone down well with her audience.

While retaining Rae Bareli may be easy with Rahul Gandhi contesting against the 2019 loser Dinesh Pratap Singh of the BJP, the confidence about reclaiming Amethi without a Gandhi in the fray is mystifying.

Kishori Lal Sharma has the advantage of being a local and is well known in Rae Bareli and Amethi, having managed both constituencies for the family for decades. He knows the constituency like the back of his hand. But, he doesn’t have the celebrity status of a Gandhi or a Smriti Irani, and Amethi voters are used to being pampered by high-profile MPs.

Clearly, the Gandhis hope to offset Sharma’s low-key presence with strong backing. Although no family members accompanied him when he went to file his nomination papers on Friday, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called on him in Amethi and addressed a gathering urging people to vote for Sharma.

Apparently, she has also promised to campaign for Sharma in Amethi.

The Gandhis have taken a calculated gamble by fielding Rahul Gandhi from Rae Bareli, leaving Amethi to a family loyalist and reserving Priyanka for campaigning.

The results on 4 June will reveal whether it’s a winning move.

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