By Sumedh Raina
Even as Congressmen as senior as AK Antony say that Rahul has decided to contest from Wayanad in Kerala along with Amethi to show that he is popular in every part of the country, the fact seems to be that he is nervous he may not emerge unscathed from Amethi, a seat he has represented for three consecutive terms.
On its part, the Congress leadership also says the decision shows it’s part of a strategy to give a fillip to Congress’ fortunes in the southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But there are two reasons for Gandhi being unable to escape the impression that Wayanad is his Plan B. First, the contention that this constituency in north-east Kerala has been chosen because it would shore up the party’s fortunes in 87 Lok Sabha constituencies of the three states would have appeared plausible if he had chosen a seat from Karnataka, because a contest from that state would have meant taking the Bharatiya Janata Party bull by its horns.
Nationally, Gandhi’s principal contest is with the BJP, personal as well as political, and if he had to contest a second seat, it should have been from a region where the saffron party was a significant force. Wayanad certainly is not one of them.
It must be recalled that in the 1977 polls not only had Indira Gandhi lost her Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat to maverick Raj Narain, but her party had also drawn a blank in Uttar Pradesh. In contrast, the Congress had won 41 of the 42 seats in Andhra Pradesh and she chose a safe rural seat because of uncertainty over winning Rae Bareli. Eventually, she won both but vacated the Uttar Pradesh seat for Arun Nehru.
Congress leaders have argued that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi contested two seats in 2014. It does not, however, require immense political clarity to conclude that while his decision to contest from Varanasi was an audacious move aimed to galvanise party cadre in a state where stakes were high, numerically and politically, Rahul’s Wayanad foray is essentially an attempt at playing safe.
Moreover, by choosing a constituency where almost 50 per cent of voters are from the religious minorities (estimated at 28.65 Muslims and 21.24 Christians, according to the 2011 district census), Rahul has once again opened his party to accusations from the BJP that the Congress appeases religious minorities, especially Muslims.
Rahul’s decision to contest from Wayanad would provide an opportunity to Modi to argue that he is up against a ‘milawati’ or adulterated alliance. Although the Congress and the Left Front are not in alliance anywhere in the country, they were in talks for a long period in West Bengal and even in Bihar for the lone Begusarai seat where the CPI candidate, former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, is in the fray.