No Priyanka in Varanasi, Congress fields Ajay Rai - GulfToday

No Priyanka in Varanasi, Congress fields Ajay Rai

India-election

A Congress party supporter looks up to a party flag during an election rally in Bandanwara on Thursday. Agence France-Presse

Resmi Sivaram/Agencies

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will not run against Narendra Modi. The Congress on Thursday announced that five-time MLA Ajay Rai will once again face Modi in Varanasi.

Among prominent candidates in the fray from Varanasi is Shalini Yadav, who is contesting on the SP-BSP-RLD ticket. Shalini is the daughter-in-law of late Shyamlal Yadav, who was a Congress MP from Varanasi and Union minister.

In 2014, Modi defeated Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal by well over 300,000 votes while Rai managed just 75,000 votes, and finished third.

Speculation was rife that Priyanka would contest from Varanasi. She had also hinted that she was open to contesting from the seat should her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi approve her candidature.

She seems to have enjoyed the speculation growing as it was seen disturbing the BJP. During an interaction with Congress workers who wanted her to contest from Rae Bareli, her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, she said: “Why not Varanasi?”

Last week, Rahul Gandhi, asked whether he planned to field Priyanka against Modi, said: “I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing.”

When Congress was looking for a candidate against PM in 2014, it settled for the Varanasi strongman but he again ended up in the third position with just about 7 per cent votes.

Rai, from the Bhumihar community of landlords, has a considerable following among Brahmins and Bhumihars. He started off in the BJP’s student wing and was elected to the UP Assembly from the Kolasla constituency three times in a row between 1996 and 2007 on a BJP ticket.

In 2007, he joined the Samajwadi Party as the BJP denied a ticket. He ended up third. The same year, he contested the by-polls from the Kolasla constituency as an Independent and became an MLA again.

Modi, meanwhile, on Thursday staged a roadshow in Varanasi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now headed to his own Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi. In the 11-km-long road show, BJP chief Amit Shah, union ministers Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal and Nirmala Sitharaman and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath joined him.

“After bumper rallies in Darbhanga and Banda, I am heading to beloved Kashi,” tweeted Modi. At the end of the show ar Dashashwamedh Ghat, Modi offered evening prayers.

After arriving at the Banaras Hindu University campus in Varanasi, Modi placed a garland on a statue of Madan Mohan Malviya.

Amit Shah praised Modi. “I have toured 258 Lok Sabha constituencies and come here, all I can hear is Modi, Modi, Modi,” he said, before listing out several of the efforts allegedly undertaken by the BJP government.

Varanasi votes on May 19 in the last phase of the national elections. The results of the seven-phase polls will be announced on May 23.

The Congress will provide statutory status to the National Security Council and the office of the National Security Adviser if the party is voted to power, party President Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday.

This, he said in a Facebook post, was part of the party’s concept of justice for all.

The move comes after the party recently unveiled its agenda for strengthening internal security situation through a report prepared by Lt. Gen. DS Hooda (retd), who led the 2016 cross-LoC surgical strikes when he headed the army’s Northern Command.

Taking a dig at West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s revelation that she sends sweets and kurtas to him, state Congress President Somen Mitra on Wednesday said their “friendly relationship” has been proved.

In a candid conversation with actor Akshay Kumar, Modi, earlier in the day, said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina used to send him special sweets every year from Dhaka. “When Mamata Didi came to know about it, she also started sending me Bengali sweets on one or two occasions every year.” Asked about Modi’s comment, Mitra said: “It is now clear that there is a friendly relationship.” He further said there are two fronts - pro-BJP and anti-BJP - in the Indian political matrix.

“Mamata Banerjee has not even once mentioned that while forming the government that she will not support BJP. She says Modi is bad BJP while Lal Krishna Advani is good BJP,” Mitra told reporters.