How Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad is advantage BJP

The Congress president’s decision to contest from a second seat gives the impression that he is not entirely confident of winning in Amethi.

 |  5-minute read |   03-04-2019
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Does a national leader’s seeking a second constituency signal confidence or insecurity? This question was uppermost on the nation’s mind when on March 31, former defence minister and leader from Kerala, AK Antony, along with party spokesman Randeep Surjewala, made an unexpected announcement — Congress president Rahul Gandhi would contest the Lok Sabha elections from Wayanad in Kerala.

gandhi-690_040319110945.jpgRahul Gandhi's decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala along with Amethi in Uttar Pradesh surprised many. (Source: India Today)

Why Wayanad

In addition, that is, to his ‘family jagir’, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh. In doing so, has Gandhi played both smart and safe or committed another unforced error or self goal? While it is entirely possible that the Congress has not quite shot itself in the foot this time, there is no doubt that its decision has been an unexpected shot in the arm for the BJP.

Let us understand why.

First of all, why should Gandhi seek a second seat? Whatever the symbolic reasons trotted out — and there may be quite a few — it is simply to ensure that should he lose in Amethi, he will still make it to Parliament from Wayanad. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, also contested from Medak (in Andhra Pradesh) and Rae Bareli in 1980, winning both. Similarly, his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who inherited her mother-in-law’s constituency after the latter’s death, also contested from Bellary in 1999 defeating both her BJP rivals, Vijaya Raje Scindia in Rae Bareli and Sushma Swaraj in Bellary.

More recently, in 2014, Narendra Modi also fought from Vadodara, a safer seat, in addition to Varanasi. He won from both, but the margin in Vadodara was much higher. Indeed, this time around too Modi may pick a second safer seat, especially if Congress’ first family icon, Priyanka Gandhi, stands against him from Varanasi.

mods-690_040319111333.jpgIn 2014, Narendra Modi contested from Vadodara in Gujarat apart from Varanasi in UP. (Source: Twitter)

So what’s wrong with Rahul Gandhi choosing Wayanad as his second seat? First of all, it gives the impression that he is not entirely confident of winning in Amethi. Union minister Smriti Irani, his rival on his home turf, has narrowed the margin of the runner up’s defeat. What is more the BJP has made concerted efforts to develop Amethi, spending munificently, even magnificently. What, in comparison, have the Gandhis done for their pet borough? To this BJP poser the Congress cannot offer a credible reply; Amethi has not seen significant transformation under Congress rule.

If Irani does manage a sensational upset in Amethi, it will certainly be humiliating and demoralising for the Congress. Let us not forget that potential Mahagathbandhan allies such as the Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) or Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were not willing to concede it more than two ‘reserved’ family constituencies, Rae Bareli and Amethi.

Failing in either would be not just a loss of face but signal the total rout of the grand old party. No doubt, Rahul, as party president, must have a fall back option. But choosing it so far away from UP signals not so much a commitment to the south as projected, but a fear that it has lost its base in the Hindi heartland. From the past, we know that no party can capture power at the Centre if it loses big in the ‘cow belt’.

A face-saver

Now, let us consider Wayanad. Not only is it contiguous to both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but its demographics favour the Congress. With Muslims and Christians making up just over 50 per cent of the population, it has returned a Congress candidate, MI Shanavas, from the time it was demarcated as Lok Sabha constituency in 2009. His death in November 2018 left the seat empty of any competing incumbent as far as the Congress is concerned.

Wayanad may be a safe seat for the Congress, but we must not forget that Shanavas’ lead narrowed from 1.5 lakh votes in 2009 to a mere 20,000 votes in 2014. The BJP is not fielding any candidate of its own; instead, Thushar Vellappally, the leader of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, will represent the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

amethi-690_040319111756.jpgA win from Wayanad may come as a face-saver for the Congress in case Rahul Gandhi loses Amethi. (Source: PTI)

Congress’ Catch-22

Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad has left the ruling CPI(M) fuming and the BJP smiling. If Gandhi wins both Amethi and Wayanad, he’ll have to vacate one of them, which will almost certainly be the latter. That will suit the BJP, which is trying to make inroads into Kerala. On the other hand, if Gandhi is routed in Amethi, his representing Wayanad will be a motheaten sort of face-saving for the president of a national party pushed out of the heartland of India. For Gandhi, in other words, the shift to Kerala is a move away from the Centre. For Modi, on the contrary, the second seat in his native state, Gujarat, may be seen as a legitimate second option to the Hindi-Hindu Varanasi.

Going by the angry reactions of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat, the Congress’ longstanding ‘frenemy’, the CPI(M), is now much more an enemy than a friend. No wonder the BJP is smiling at the falling-out of two of its arch-enemies who were once allies. This will augur badly in the three-cornered contest facing its charming and articulate sitting MP from Tiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor.

In addition, the BJP will certainly point to how Gandhi has chosen a Hindu minority constituency, that too backed by a party such as the Indian Union Muslim League. Rahul Gandhi may not be down and out in Wayanad, perhaps not even on his way out, but he is quite out of its way there as far as the BJP is concerned.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad too. Has the party conceded defeat in Amethi?



Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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