- SP-BSP announced candidate to take on PM Modi from Varanasi
- It puts question mark against Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's electoral debut
- Her candidature has been a matter of great speculation
The Mayawati-Samajwadi Party alliance on Monday announced a candidate to take on Narendra Modi from Varanasi, putting an extra question mark against Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's electoral debut from the seat and a much-anticipated battle against the Prime Minister.
The candidature of the Congress' newest general secretary has been a matter of great speculation since her entry into active politics in February. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was made the in-charge of the eastern part of the state, where Varanasi is located.
Priyanka Gandhi and her brother, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, have kept the suspense alive - one with broad hints, the other with cryptic comments.
Last month, amid a buzz that she might contest from her mother's constituency, Raebareli, Priyanka Gandhi had quipped, "Why not Varanasi". Rahul Gandhi, who initially said it would be his sister's decision, last week remarked playfully that there was no harm in keeping the "suspense alive". Yesterday, Priyanka Gandhi tossed the ball back to her brother's court, saying it would be the decision of the Congress chief.
Pitting Priyanka Gandhi Vadra against PM Modi would be seen as a statement of serious intent from the Congress and sources said opinion is divided on whether it would make an impact on the overall chances of the party. There are convincing arguments on both sides, the sources said.
More importantly, if Priyanka Gandhi contests, the party wants the backing of the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav combine, which has not been forthcoming.
On Monday, the Samajwadi Party fielded Shalini Yadav, daughter-in-law of a former Congress lawmaker, who earlier contested the mayoral elections from Varanasi. Congress sources said it negates the possibility of any endorsement from the alliance, eroding the chances of a high-profile contest.
In 2014, the Congress had fielded Ajai Rai against PM Modi. He had come third in the contest. PM Modi's closest rival was Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal, who polled around 2 lakh votes - way behind the Prime Minister's 5.8 lakh. But he came to be seen as a politician willing to take on a big challenge and the next year, AAP swept to power in Delhi, winning 67 of the 70 assembly seats.
Sources in the Congress, however, said the ultimate decision will be taken by the top three in the party -- Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi and their mother Sonia Gandhi.
"This is her personal decision and I think we should support her personal decision and whatever decision an individual takes we must respect that. This is a very serious decision and is done after a lot of contemplation,'' Jyotiraditya Scindia, the other Congress general secretary who is in charge of western Uttar Pradesh, told NDTV on Monday.
Nominations for Varanasi can be filed between April 22 and 29 -- the temple town votes on May 19 in the last phase of the national elections.