Rahul Gandhi's Kerala contest is without farce of Sonia's 1999 Bellary fight, but is Wayanad truly a 'safe' bet?

  • It would be nice for the Congress to stop ludicrous claims — that only provoke sniggers — about why Rahul selected Wayanad at this critical juncture for his party

  • For Rahul now, Wayanad offers comfort only in chemistry and not arithmetic. For one thing, Wayanad doesn't have a long electoral history of supporting any party

  • While Wayanad is not as safe as Congress would have liked, it's relatively the safest of all seats among those it considered from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

There is one positive aspect of Congress president Rahul Gandhi picking Wayanad in Kerala as his second Lok Sabha constituency. The announcement came without the needless theatrics of hide-and-seek that preceded his mother Sonia Gandhi filing her nomination in 1999 in Ballari (then called Bellary). Even then, Kottayam in Kerala was among the half-a-dozen Lok Sabha constituencies shortlisted for Sonia, from which Bellary was picked as the "safest".

Sonia's coterie went to ridiculous lengths to keep her Bellary contest under wraps till the last minute. Accompanied by Ghulam Nabi Azad and others, she flew to Hyderabad in a commercial flight the night before the last date for filing nominations. Azad lied to the media that she was heading for Cudappah in Andhra Pradesh to contest from there.

To make the cloak-and-dagger farce complete, YS Rajasekhar Reddy, then the Andhra Pradesh Congress president, was packed off to Cudappah — a seat he had won four times. The party also spread a rumour that Sonia would contest from Medak in Andhra Pradesh. This writer fell for these rumours for some hours.

At one point that night, the BJP decided to field Vijayashanthi against Sonia in Cudappah on a suggestion by the state's then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. Even as emissaries were talking to the actress, the beefing-up of security at Bellary exposed the game. At around midnight, Sushma Swaraj agreed to be the BJP candidate. She flew to Bengaluru (then Bangalore) the next morning and took a helicopter to reach Bellary to file her nomination well in time. So did Sonia. All this charade was aimed at denying BJP enough time to bring in a strong candidate at Bellary. It left a bad taste in the mouths of even some Congress leaders.

In contrast, the announcement by the Congress about Rahul's contest from Wayanad four full days before the last date for filing nominations was clean, candid and straight. But that was as good as it got.

The rest of the hypocrisy that accompanied Sonia’s Bellary contest remains. Sonia had said she picked Bellary because Karnataka had been her mother-in-law's "favoured state", except that the state's people didn't know it. Her daughter Priyanka said at one rally, "I have brought my mother to you. Protect her."

 Rahul Gandhis Kerala contest is without farce of Sonias 1999 Bellary fight, but is Wayanad truly a safe bet?

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter @INCIndia

Stuff and nonsense

The hogwash that the Congress lets out now to defend its selection of a safe seat for Rahul goes much further than it did in Sonia's case. To keep the fight in Wayanad business-like and honest, the Congress must stop claiming that the Kerala constituency had been chosen because:

- the entire Wayanad, including its people, hills, lakes, flora and fauna had unanimously pleaded for Rahul;
- he wants to build "a bridge between the North and South";
- he wants to stand by the South whose food habits and sartorial styles had been challenged;
- contesting from Wayanad is as clever as killing three birds with one stone, since the place lies conveniently at the junction of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and Rahul's very presence in flesh and blood there will invigorate Congress workers at double-speed in three states;
- Rahul’s campaign in Kerala (which will be no more than a few rallies) would do to Congress what Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March did to the Independence movement.

It would be nice to stop such ludicrous claims that only provoke sniggers — something Rahul can do without at this hour of existential crisis for his party. The intelligent voters of the highly-literate Kerala know enough about the safe feeling that Rahul has in Wayanad to be fooled by the Socratesian philosophy or Aristotlean logic that the party is dishing out.

But is Wayanad 'safe'?

And that brings us to the key question: By the yardsticks of a political dynasty, is Wayanad a "safe" constituency? Bellary was, for Sonia. Both arithmetic and chemistry favoured her in 1999. The party had won 12 times till then. It was largely backward and illiterate — it still is — and the surname of Gandhi was all that mattered.

Despite all this, this writer was witness for two whole weeks to the tough fight Congress had to put up for "safe" seat. An electrifying campaign by Swaraj aided by a huge army of the Sangh Parivar kept the Congress on toes, although Sonia won in the end. But she won by a margin of only 56,100 votes, less than what the Congress candidate had got in the election only a year ago.

For Rahul now, Wayanad offers comfort only in chemistry and not arithmetic as you can see from the table below. For one thing, Wayanad doesn't have a long electoral history of supporting any party. It was created only in 2009 during the delimitation of constituencies.

Wayanad Lok Sabha tallies

PARTY Votes polled
2009 2014
Congress 4,10,703 3,77,035
CPI 2,57,264 3,56,165
BJP 31,687 80,752

The Congress' victory margin crashed from 1.53 lakh in 2009 to a little over 20,000 in 2014. Besides, the LDF won four of the seven Assembly segments in the 2016 poll. Statistically, Wayanad thus offers some degree of reassurance but in no way presents a fail-safe scenario for a VVIP candidate. Rahul can, however, only hope that his presence will spark a major swing of votes from the CPI to him. Many Muslims and Christians who are not among the core Left voters, but who may have voted for CPI in the last election, for instance, may switch to Rahul.

While Wayanad is not as safe as Congress would have liked, it's relatively the safest of all seats among those it considered from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. What must, however, be noted is that for the Gandhi family, the number of safe electoral havens has been steadily dwindling, first in the North and now in the South. Two entire southern states — Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — are almost out of bounds for the Congress because of a mess of its own making over bifurcation.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Apr 02, 2019 08:48:08 IST