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Lok Sabha Election 2019: Suspense in Wayanad over Rahul Gandhi's candidature even as Kerala Congress gears up

Even though the All India Congress Committee (AICC) is still holding the cards close to its chest on party president Rahul Gandhi’s second seat in Wayanad, Kerala leaders are confident that he will come and it is only matter of time before the official announcement is made. Rahul is seeking reelection from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

The uncertainty over his contesting from Wayanad has not dampened the upbeat mood of the Congress and the party's allies in the United Democratic Front (UDF) across the state. Congress leaders and workers are all set to welcome the party president to Wayanad, traditionally a Congress bastion. As soon as when former chief minister and AICC general secretary Oommen Chandy revealed the move of the AICC a couple of days back, Kozhikode District Congress Committee (DCC) president T Siddique who was allotted the seat and started campaign, has voluntarily announced that he is opting out from the contest in favour of the party president. Now he is heading the campaign for his leader.

 Lok Sabha Election 2019: Suspense in Wayanad over Rahul Gandhis candidature even as Kerala Congress gears up

Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Congress workers have started writing on walls seeking votes for Rahul and putting up posters across the constituency.

Wayanad, constituted in 2009, is perched on the Western Ghats in the north of the state and spreads over the three revenue district of Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram. The constituency comprises seven Assembly segments of  Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sulthan Batheri in Wayanad district, Thiruvambady in Kozhikode district and Nilambur, Eranad and Vandoor in Malappuram district. It is the part of the spices belt of the state.

In the first election held after the formation of the constituency in 2009, a senior Congress leader MI Shanawaz won the seat by a whopping margin of over 1.5 lakh votes than his nearest rival M Rahmathulla of CPI. Shanavaz retained the seat in 2014, but with a much lesser margin of over 20,000 votes, owing to the lacklustre performance of the MP coupled with the unprecedented farm crisis and anti-incumbency factors against the second Manmohan Singh government.

The major chunk of the population in the constituency is the Christina settlers whose forefathers migrated here from central parts of the state nearly a century ago in search of land for farming. They are the solid vote bank of Congress. Equally, or more strong is the native Muslim population. Baring a minuscule section, members of the entire community is associated with Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) the second largest, constituent of the UDF. It is, therefore, the AICC leadership has contacted the IUML supremo Syed Muhammedali Thangal and conveyed its intention to field Rahul in the Wayanad constituency.

"I got a phone call from Delhi in this regard and I offered them all support of my party,’’ he told media persons.

PK Kunhalikutty, IUML general secretary and the party candidate in the Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency, said that he (Rahul) has to come only to file the nomination and we will take care of the rest.

"Rahul Gandhi is the future prime minister and we, IUML, think that it is our duty to ensure his victory in Wayanad with a margin of 2-2.5 lakh votes. No doubt, it is very much within our reach, not an exaggeration,’’ Kunnhalikutty, five-time state minister and member in the outgoing Lok Sabha, said.

Since Rahul is projected as the next probable prime minister, Congress expects that people, the majority of them eke out a living from farming, will vote for him en masse.

Political pundits argue that his move seeking almost BJP-free safe South Indian seat will adversely affect the morale of the party workers, particularly in the North. It sends a wrong message that even the prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition is not safe in the North. Their assessment has further strengthened the ongoing chorus of the BJP that by looking for a second constituency, Rahul himself has admitted his defeat to Smriti Irani.

Irani is taking him again in Amethi, a pocket borough of the Nehru-Gandhi family for decades. In the 2014 election, she could bring down his winning margin to 1.07 lakh from 3.70 lakh votes in the previous term. She has already kicked off her campaign in Amethi and claims that this time she would wrest the seat.

"Amethi drove him away. Calls requesting him to contest from other seats are being staged as people have rejected him,’’ Irani tweeted soon after the news came out that he is looking for a seat. But the fact is that seeking a second seat is not a new thing in Indian politics. Last time Narendra Modi contested in two seats. Even Smriti Irani fought the battle of ballot in Amethi and Chandni Chowk in Delhi. She fell at both places.

Annoyed by the attack of the BJP, the AICC is now trying to propagate that Rahul has been invited by various Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) including Kerala and Tamil Nadu committees, to contest from their respective constituencies. However, it is far from the truth as far as Kerala is concerned. A few senior leaders confided that it was former defence minister and Congress Working Committee member AK Antony who conveyed it to the Kerala leaders. It was only then they came to know about the move. So they have confidently announced that Rahul is contesting from Wayanad.

Now since the AICC announcement had been delaying, Kerala leaders have taken a leaf from AICC and say that KPCC has invited Rahul to contest from Wayanad too.

But the leaders are unanimous in their view that Rahul is safer in Amethi than last time.

"See, this time BSP-SP combine is not fielding candidate in the constituency. That itself is a big thing. Last time SP had a candidate. So he will win the seat,’’ said a senior Congress leader.

Congress leaders say that Rahul’s move to contest in Wayanad is not a move to contest in a safe seat. But it is a well-designed strategy planned mainly by AICC general secretary in charge of organisation KC Venugopal, a close confidant of Rahul. Tutored by the master strategist late K Karunakaran, former chief minister and veteran Congress leader and once a king maker in Congress, Venugopal was the architect of the JD(S)-Congress Karnataka government. He was also instrumental in installing Ashok Gehlot as Rajasthan chief minister, say party sources.

The core idea is that to campaign strongly in the South where BJP is out of power except in Goa. In the North, East, and West, there are strong anti-BJP regional parties. They will put up a strong fight against BJP there.

Since victory is sure in Wayanad, he doesn’t need to spend much time in Amethi. He can peacefully campaign across the country.

Congress expects that his candidature in Wayanad is to create a 'Rahul Wave' across the state, that will enable the party to sweep all the 20 seats in Kerala. Since the Wayanad constituency is sharing boundaries with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, ripples of the 'Rahul Wave' will reach these states too, and even beyond it.

The party hopes that with the effect of 'Rahul Wave', Congress and its allies can win nearly 80 percent of the total 132 seats in the South. (Kerala 20, Tamil Nadu 39, Karnataka 28, Goa 2, Andhra 25, Telangana 17  and Union Territory of Pondicherry 1)

Congress argues that conditions are conducive in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Since the JD(S)-Congress government are only a few months old, the public mood is not against JD(S) and Congress. This apart, BJP has no strong leadership in Karnataka. The recent kickback scam has further eclipsed the image of the party in the state.

The party says that in Tamil Nadu, people are fed up with the AIADMK government. Adding insult to injury to it, kin of some of the AIADMK leaders are involved in the sex scam in which several college girls were sexually assaulted for months. Congress is in alliance with DMK.

From the North and other regions, the party envisages that with allies, it can win between 60 and 100 seats mainly from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and even Gujarat.

If this strategy works out, Congress believes that it can form the government with the backing of BSP-SP, Trinamool Congress and other likeminded regional and small parties.

Congress expects problems from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Once the party gets a chance to form the government, winners form these two states can be tamed, Congress hopes.

Once the official announcement of Rahul’s candidature come, we will design our work on the lines of this strategy. We are confident that it will be rewarding,’’ says a senior Congress leader.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Mar 26, 2019 12:46:53 IST

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