Should Congress president Rahul Gandhi contest from a second Lok Sabha seat apart from his traditional bailiwick of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh? Or will the Congress president sit on his high horse and brave it out only in Amethi?
Union minister Smriti Irani will take on Rahul in Amethi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will pull out all stops to wrest the seat from him. Irani cannot be trifled with, as the 2014 election result showed. Rahul won by over three lakh votes in 2009, when Irani wasn't his rival. Then, everything changed in 2014, when she polled over three lakh votes to slash Rahul's winning margin to just over a lakh votes.
Despite Amethi's voters being loyal to the Gandhi family for over three and a half decades, the BJP now holds four out of the five Assembly seats that are part of this Lok Sabha constituency. This, and Irani's ability to take the fight into the rival's camp should be deeply worrying for the Congress.
Rahul losing Amethi will be a disaster not just for him but also for the future of the Congress and its allies who, in reality, are not many, given that the party has failed to seal seat-sharing pacts with its friends. If the Congress chief fails to make it to the 17th Lok Sabha and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance retains power, Rahul's humiliation will be complete.
To avoid the risk of an adverse verdict in Amethi, the Congress president will do well to contest a second seat. His party unit in Karnataka has formally invited him to contest a seat of his choice in the state.
Rahul contesting from a seat in the south makes good political sense. For one, the Congress shares power in Karnataka with the Janata Dal (Secular). And with the two parties finalising a seat-sharing deal, the chances of a safe victory for Rahul are bright.
The two parties have also announced a mega rally in Karnataka at the end of March, in which both Rahul and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda of the JD(S) will participate. Leaders of the two parties believe the event will become a big morale booster for the alliance not just in Karnataka but neighbouring states as well.
Second, a prime ministerial candidate contesting from the state, Congress leaders believe, will rub off positively on the chances of other candidates from the party.
Third, for a leader hailing from the north to contest from the south makes for a good outreach strategy. It will help the Congress drive home the point that their leader has a pan-India outlook, as opposed to Narendra Modi, who in 2014 opted to contest from two seats, neither of which was in the south.
Congress leaders, led by former chief minister Siddaramaiah, recall how Karnataka has been a happy hunting ground for the Gandhis ever since 1978, when Indira Gandhi won a remarkable by-election from Chikmagalur against the Janata Party's candidate Veerendra Patil. That victory paved the way for her resurgence and the Congress' sweep in the 1980 general elections.
Rahul's mother Sonia Gandhi too won from another seat in Karnataka in 1999, when she scored over BJP's Sushma Swaraj in Bellary. It is another matter that Sonia chose to give up Bellary in favour of her traditional Rae Bareli. Rahul may do the same if he wins from Karnataka.
Making the appeal to Rahul, Siddaramaiah tweeted: "Karnataka has always supported & encouraged @INCIndia leaders. It has been proved in case of Smt.Indira Gandhi & Smt. Sonia Gandhi. We also want our next Prime Minister @RahulGandhi to contest from Karnataka & herald new developmental paradigm (sic)."
Siddaramaiah has suggested that Rahul contest from Mysuru, the former chief minister's home district.
There has been pressure on Rahul to contest from Tamil Nadu too, but if he chooses to stand from a second seat, he will most likely do so from Karnataka, where there are obvious advantages.
We haven't heard from Rahul yet, but the clamour for him to contest from the south has led to sniggers from the BJP. Is Rahul running scared from Amethi, they ask. Trolling on those lines will only intensify if Rahul indeed contests from a second seat.
Interestingly, rumours were rife on Friday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would contest from Bangalore South but state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa clarified that no such decision has been taken. A BJP stronghold, Bangalore South was the late Ananth Kumar's constituency. His widow Tejaswini is tipped to contest from there but surprisingly, the party left out the seat from Thursday's list of candidates, leading to speculation that Modi may contest from here.
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Updated Date: Mar 22, 2019 16:23:48 IST