Rahul Gandhi becomes third generation Gandhi to contest from Rae Bareli

In 2019, Rae Bareli was the lone seat that the Congress won in Uttar Pradesh with Sonia Gandhi polling 55.8% of the votes

Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Raebareli on Friday. (ANI)

In February, Sonia Gandhi’s unopposed election to Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan sparked speculation about her replacement as the Congress candidate from her family pocket borough of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh. The election coincided with the entry of her son Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra into Rae Bareli. Many of those who turned up to welcome the yatra carried pictures of Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, urging one of them to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Rai Bareli.

On Friday morning, the Congress ended the suspense over the party’s nominees for Rae Bareli and other Gandhi family stronghold of Amethi at the eleventh hour. The two seats are scheduled to go to the polls in the fifth phase of the ongoing general elections on May 20. Friday is the last day of submitting nomination papers for the two seats.

Rahul Gandhi, who also contested Lok Sabha polls from Wayanad, was named as the candidate from Rae Bareli, and Kishori Lal Sharma from Amethi. Priyanka Gandhi, who was expected to be fielded from one of the two seats, opted out of the contest.

Sharma will be the first non-Gandhi Congress candidate from Amethi since 1998. Rahul Gandhi lost the Amethi seat to Union minister Smriti Irani by 55,000 votes in 2019 but managed to win from Wayanad. Irani became the first BJP leader to defeat any Gandhi family leader in Amethi since 1999.

Rae Bareli is seen as a safer seat compared to Amethi. In the 2019 election, it was the lone seat that the Congress won in Uttar Pradesh with Sonia Gandhi polling 55.8% of the votes.

The constituency has since the 1950s been synonymous with the Congress even as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological fount Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have attempted to make inroads into the last bastion of the Gandhi family in Uttar Pradesh.

Congress supporters insist Rai Bareli’s people have a strong emotional connection with the Gandhi family. They cite the establishment of educational institutes such as Feroze Gandhi Engineering College, All India Institute Of Medical Science, a Rail Coach Factory, an Industrial Training Institute, the National Institute of Fashion Technology, the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research, etc while crediting the Gandhis for the development in the area.

Sonia Gandhi won the Rae Bareli seat for the fifth consecutive time in 2019. She polled 80.49% votes in a by-poll in 2006. Her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi won the seat in 1967 and 1971 before losing it to the Janata Party’s Raj Narain in 1977. She wrested the seat in 1980 but retained Medak in what is now Telangana, citing a higher victory margin there.

The Gandhis have represented Rae Bareli since 1952. Feroze Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s grandfather, won the seat in 1952 and 1957. Rahul Gandhi will be the third generation of the Gandhis to contest from Rae Bareli. His relatives Arun Nehru and Shiela Kaul have also represented this seat.

The BJP has sought to wrest the only remaining Congress citadel in Uttar Pradesh, where the party has been out of power since 1989. It won one of the five assembly seats in Rae Bareli, an Other Backward Classes (OBC) dominated constituency, in 2022 as the BJP stormed back to power in the state for a second time even as Priyanka Gandhi campaigned across the state. Congress’s ally Samajwadi Party won the other four assembly segments.

The BJP won Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat in 1996 and 1998 when the Congress fielded little-known Vikram Kaul and Deepa Kaul. Its vote share has risen since 2004 when it ended up in fourth place. In the 2006 by-poll, the BJP secured 3.33% votes and bagged the third position. It got 3.82% votes in 2009 and finished second in 2014. BJP’s vote share increased to 38.36% in 2019 from 21.05% vote in 2014.

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