Rahul Gandhi likely to contest from south too

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Kerala leaders want him to contest from Wayanad, hopes it will boost party prospects in the region

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is likely to enter the fray from a Lok Sabha constituency in the south, party sources told  on Saturday.

The Congress units of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have strongly urged Mr. Gandhi to contest from their States, but he has not taken a decision yet, multiple sources said.

Party leaders in Kerala were vocal on Saturday about their request to Mr. Gandhi that he contest from Wayanad in north Kerala. Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala was non-committal in his response.

“We thank them for their effort and also their expression of love and affection. The Congress president will positively consider it,” he said.

There is no question of Mr. Gandhi facing any serious challenge from the BJP candidate Smriti Irani in Amethi, and the move to contest from south is for other considerations, according to sources. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had contested two seats in 2014 — Vadodara in Gujarat and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. It remains unclear whether Mr. Modi will contest from two seats this year.

Safe seat

“Mr. Gandhi is likely to contest from a southern State, as there is a feeling among all of us that it will in a big way boost the party’s prospects in the entire region,” a senior party functionary who is familiar with the matter, said. While Wayanad is a safe seat for the Congress, Mr. Gandhi will have to consider whether contesting against the Left will be good optics nationally, while the party’s political fight is against the BJP.

The Leader of the Opposition in Kerala, Ramesh Chennithala, said Wayanad is a microcosm of the Congress, where all religious communities, tribals and Dalits are represented. “That is the politics of the party,” he said.

If Mr. Gandhi chooses to take on the BJP, then Bidar in north east Karnataka, bordering Telangana and Maharashtra could be the arena. The Congress has four MLAS there, two of them Ministers in the State, and ally JD(S) has one MLA who is also a Minister.

“In Bidar, the contest will be straight against the BJP and his candidature will energise the party in in the entire region,” a party functionary from Karnataka said. The Congress has won the seat 10 times, but in 2014 the BJP won it. BJP’s candidate is the sitting MP, Bhagwant Khuba. Congress will also have to account for the fact that its alliance with the JD (S) is not running entirely smooth. Bellary, the Lok Sabha seat Sonia Gandhi won in 1999 is now reserved for tribals.

Congress units in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have also asked Mr. Gandhi to choose a seat and contest. Party sources said a final decision could be made in a day or two.

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