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Indian opposition leader to challenge Modi’s party in family stronghold

Rahul Gandhi will contest the national election in the Congress party bastion of Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh

Rahul Gandhi, the de facto leader of the opposition Indian National Congress (INC), is running for election in his family stronghold of Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh.

The decision was announced on Friday, which is the last day for nominations in the constituency that goes to polls on May 20 in the fifth of seven rounds of parliamentary elections that will determine the country’s new government.

Raebareli is located in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s largest state and accounts for 80 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament).

Gandhi is standing for election here, as well as in his primary constituency of Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala, which already voted in April. Candidates are allowed to run in multiple constituencies but can only represent one.

The move by the Congress party is aimed at challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the key region, which is dominated by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was previously speculated that Gandhi could run against the BJP-backed Smriti Irani, who serves as minister for women, child development, and minority affairs in the Modi government, in the constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

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India's Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi (C) along with his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (C, left) waves to supporters during a roadshow, before filing his nomination papers for the upcoming general elections, in Wayanad on April 3, 2024.
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In a major upset for the Congress party in 2019, Gandhi was defeated by television actress-turned-politician Irani in Amethi, where he had previously been elected as an MP on three occasions. This time, the Congress has chosen Kishori Lal Sharma as its candidate in Amethi.

Irani has claimed that the Congress party has already “accepted defeat” in Amethi by choosing not to run any of the Gandhi family in the key constituency.

Narendra Modi has also suggested that Gandhi was afraid of losing. “He is scared to fight at Amethi and ran away to Raebareli. I want to tell him, daro mat, bhago mat [don’t be scared, don’t run away],” the prime minister said at an election rally in the West Bengal state on Friday.

Raebareli, considered a bastion of the Congress party, was chosen by Gandhi as a “safer bet,” Indian political analysts have suggested. The Gandhi family has been part of Raebareli political landscape since 1952. Feroze Gandhi, husband of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, won here in 1952 and 1957. Indira Gandhi served as the constituency’s MP from 1967 to 1977. Other prominent figures who have represented Raebareli include Arun Nehru, a key figure in former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s administration; and Sheila Kaul, Indira Gandhi’s aunt.

More recently, Sonia Gandhi, the wife of Rajiv Gandhi and mother of Rahul Gandhi, consolidated the family’s grip on the constituency in 2004. She won the 2019 election with more than 55% of the vote. This year, Rahul Gandhi will stand against Dinesh Pratap Singh of the BJP, who lost to Sonia Gandhi in the last election.

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May 03, 2024 at 08:31PM

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