Thiruvananthapuram: The Congress is exploring the option of fielding Rahul Gandhi from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, ThePrint has learnt.
Rahul, the MP for Kerala’s Wayanad, had embarked on his Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari, which is currently represented by the Congress’ Vijay Vasanth.
Multiple party leaders ThePrint spoke to confirmed that the Kanyakumari option was being explored but they added that a final call was yet to be taken. In 2019, some Congress MPs from Tamil Nadu proposed to the high command to field Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from Kanyakumari but she chose not to contest, a party MP told ThePrint.
There are two reasons cited to explain the reason for a new option being explored.
First, it will pitch him directly against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from a seat that is considered safe for the Congress, especially in an alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Left.
Second, party leaders contend, Rahul contesting against the Left in Kerala was leading to an awkward situation, given his proximity with senior Left leaders such as CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. They, however, maintain that the primary reason for his likely shift is the fact that he would like to be seen as taking on the BJP.
A leader noted that, even in 2019, Kanyakumari was shortlisted along with Bengaluru Rural (formerly Kanakapura), now represented by D.K. Suresh, before a last-minute manoeuver clinched it in favour of Wayanad. It is speculated that Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal may be fielded from there if Rahul moves on to Kanyakumari.
Contesting from Kanyakumari means that Rahul will be a joint candidate of the Left and the Congress. He will also have Shashi Tharoor for company in adjoining Thiruvananthapuram. Originally a part of erstwhile Travancore kingdom, the four taluks comprising Kanyakumari were ceded by Kerala to Tamil Nadu following the States Reorganisation Act, 1956.
In 2019, Rahul lost from the Gandhi pocket borough of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. With BJP’s Smriti Irani consolidating her hold over Amethi, it looks a long shot for him to wrest the seat under the present circumstances. That leaves him with Wayanad where the primary opposition is the Left. Poor optics aside, it also leaves room for interpretation that he is shying away from a direct contest with the BJP.
It is in this context — and the repackaging of Rahul following his yatra — that his Lok Sabha seat is back in focus. Constituencies in Karnataka are deemed too risky, even if the Congress were to win the forthcoming state election, as the voting pattern is different in elections to the legislative assembly and to Parliament.
So, according to sources in the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) and the All India Congress Committee (AICC), the party zeroed in on Kanyakumari.
In 1969, when K. Kamaraj fought a Lok Sabha bypoll in this constituency (formerly Nagercoil), the ruling DMK had joined hands with the Swatantra Party but failed to stop the Congress veteran’s thumping win.
Venugopal, who was in Kochi to inaugurate a Congress Mandalam office on 19 March, neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of Rahul contesting from Kanyakumari. He told ThePrint that Congress leaders are asking Rahul to contest from different seats, but it’s too early to take that call.
Also Read: BJP is obsessed with Nehru, freedom struggle. This keeps Rahul Gandhi in the news forever
Hindi heartland versus South
Many Congress leaders from the Hindi heartland are of the opinion that Rahul should try and wrest Amethi back, but the loyalists are wary of the damage that would be caused if he loses a second time.
For some of these leaders, Rahul not contesting from the heartland will send a wrong message to the voters, and will badly affect the fortunes of the party, à la 2019.
Both Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi and grandmother Indira Gandhi previously contested from the South, Karnataka and (undivided) Andhra Pradesh, respectively.
Sonia contested against the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj in 1998, and Indira chose to contest from Medak in 1980 while simultaneously trying to win back Rae Bareli after losing it to Raj Narain in 1977. Indira won from both seats and later resigned from Rae Bareli. She also contested from Chikmagalur in a bypoll in 1978 after the Rae Bareli loss, which set the stage for her comeback after the Emergency.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
Also Read: Rahul Gandhi has wasted yet another opportunity of being a serious politician