Amid calls for Rahul Gandhi to contest from a seat in southern India apart from his Amethi constituency, Union Minister Smriti Irani, who challenged the Congress president in his Uttar Pradesh seat in the 2014 election, said that the calls were being "staged" as people in Mr Gandhi's constituency have rejected him.
"Amethi drove him away. Calls requesting him to contest from other seats are being staged as people have rejected him," the BJP leader tweeted in Hindi using hashtag #BhaagRahulBhaag.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala on Saturday confirmed that party workers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala had urged Mr Gandhi to contest the April-May election from these states. Local reports quoted the Kerala Congress as saying that Rahul Gandhi has agreed to their request to contest from Wayanad constituency in northern Kerala.
Her tweet drew a sharp response from Mr Surjewala, who reminded how Ms Irani managed to become a member of parliament (MP) from Rajya Sabha despite losing the Lok Sabha elections from Chandni Chowk and Amethi.
In the 2014 election, Amethi saw an intense battle between Rahul Gandhi and Smriti Irani. Though Ms Irani lost to the Congress leader, she managed to reduce his victory margin from some 3.70 lakh votes in 2009 to 1.07 lakh in 2014.
The Congress's vote share was reduced to 46 per cent in 2014 as against its earlier shares of 71 and 66 per cent in the 2009 and 2004 elections, respectively. The BJP, whose vote share in Amethi remained in the single digits in 2004, garnered 37 per cent of the votes cast in 2014.
Amethi has long been a stronghold of the Congress, which has not lost the seat in the last three decades barring 1998, when the BJP's Sanjay Singh defeated Satish Sharma of the Congress by a margin of 23,270 votes. Amethi was regained by the Congress in 1999 when Sonia Gandhi was elected as MP from there.
In the past, Amethi constituency has been represented by Congress heavyweights like Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
The seat, however, has become worrisome for the Congress after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2017, when the BJP managed to win four of the five Assembly seats under the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency.
The Congress has already declared Rahul Gandhi as its candidate from Amethi.
After Smriti Irani's name was announced for Amethi on Thursday, she took to Twitter to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the top BJP leadership for fielding her again from the seat.
"It will be a matter of pride for me to bloom Kamal (BJP's election symbol) in Amethi and strengthen the party in Parliament," she said, adding, "Kamal Ka Phool Khilana Hai, Naya Itihas Banana Hai (we have to make the lotus bloom and create new history)".
Ms Irani has visited the constituency several times, accusing the Congress chief of treating the constituency as a vote bank and not investing in its progress.
Mr Gandhi, in turn, has blamed the ruling BJP government at the centre and state for taking away the big projects that he had lined up for Amethi.
(With inputs from IANS)
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