Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said that the party had decided long ago that his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will not contest from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After months of build-up, the Congress announced last week that not Priyanka Gandhi but Ajay Rai, a local Congress leader who had finished third in the 2014 polls, would be the party's candidate again in the temple town in Uttar Pradesh.
"It was a decision made long ago that Priyanka was not going to contest from Varanasi. I said that I would keep you in suspense and I did," Mr Gandhi told NDTV in his first interview this election season.
Priyanka Gandhi joined the Congress in January - after years of playing an unofficial role in the party's decisions - and was given charge of the Congress campaign in 41 of Uttar Pradesh's 80 seats in eastern UP. Jyotiraditya Scindia was given charge of the rest.
It was Priyanka Gandhi whose comments had set speculation ablaze when she told party workers requesting her to contest from her mother Sonia Gandhi's Raebareli seat: "Why not Varanasi?" Since then, every time reporters asked her about being the Congress candidate against PM Modi, she had maintained that she was ready to contest wherever her party wanted her to.
On Tuesday, speaking to NDTV in Uttar Pradesh's Amethi, where she was campaigning for her brother Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, Priyanka Gandhi said, "I did not pull out (of Varanasi)... I took the advice of all senior leaders of our party and colleagues in Uttar Pradesh. They firmly felt that I have the responsibility here of looking after 41 seats. And all candidates expected me to campaign in their constituency. I felt that they (candidates) would be disappointed if I focused on only one place," the 47-year-old said.
She disagreed that the move sent out any "wrong signaI".
"From the start, I had said that I would do what my party says. My party decided this so I am going with that," she said.