Bengaluru: With party president Rahul Gandhi contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Wayanad, besides bastion Amethi, the Congress is trying to send a clear signal that the party will spare no chance to revive itself in southern India and revamp its presence in the region.
Also read: Rahul Gandhi to also contest from Wayanad, Congress confirms
The choice of Wayanad in Kerala as Gandhi’s second seat has geographical significance, and what the party believes to be far-reaching political implications. The party also considers it to be a ‘safe’ enough seat for its president.
The Congress is on the verge of decimation in Telangana, has negligible presence in Tamil Nadu and is greatly diminished in Andhra Pradesh, a former stronghold where it is now widely reviled as the architect of the 2014 bifurcation. It, however, continues to remain a key player in Karnataka and Kerala.
Congress leaders say that one of the major reasons behind choosing Wayanad is its geographical significance, as also pointed out by senior leader Randeep Surjewala Sunday morning.
For one, the constituency borders two other southern states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The party believes Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad will have a “significant, positive, ripple effect” on the neighbouring Karnataka seats of Mysuru and Chamarajanagar, and the Nilgiris and surrounding areas in Tamil Nadu.
“This time, the Congress hopes to get a minimum of 75 seats from southern India. Wayanad is the best example of how we can gain the confidence of our voters across three states in one go,” All India Congress Committee secretary P.C. Vishnunadh told ThePrint.
Also, most of Wayanad’s seven assembly segments — Mananthavadi, Kalpetta, Sulthan Battery, Thiruvambady, Nilambur, Wandoor and Eranadu — are strongholds of the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
The five states of South India — Kerala (20), Karnataka (28), Andhra Pradesh (25), Telangana (17) and Tamil Nadu (39) —account for 129 of India’s 543 Lok Sabha seats, with the Union Territory of Puducherry electing one MP.
Of these, the Congress holds all of 19 seats as of now: Nine in Karnataka, one each in Telangana and Puducherry, and eight in Kerala.
Also read: There’s no UPA vs NDA in Telangana, yet it can prove to be the defining state for 2019
Need to revive the Congress
The choice of Wayanad is being looked at as a strong message to southern India that the Congress is keen to strengthen itself in the region, and keep its flock together – a huge concern for the party in the South.
In the past one month, nearly nine of 19 Congress MLAs in Telangana have shifted to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, claiming they were disillusioned with the party.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Gowda said Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad is a signal to south India to stand with the Congress.
“Rahul Gandhi is very popular in South India as we have seen through recent [party] surveys and there is a lot of support for him,” said Gowda.
“To explain how the Congress has fared across the country and why Rahul chose this seat, I always say draw an imaginary line across our country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
“You will find that to the centre and left of that line, the Congress has always been strong. To the right, that is where we may be out, but we will bounce back. This is a way of working towards strengthening the party’s presence there and Rahul contesting from Wayanad will help build this confidence,” he added.
The Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency, which was formed after the 2008 de-limitation exercise, has been with the Congress for two terms now. The seat has been vacant since the passing away of its two-term MP, M.I. Shanavas, in November 2018.
The Congress won by 1.5 lakh votes in 2009, but, in 2014, CPI candidate Sathyan Mokeri gave Shanavas a tough fight, drastically reducing the victory margin to 20,870 votes.
The Congress, however, still considers this to be safe seat for Gandhi as, traditionally, Muslims and Christians in the region, who constitute close to 50 per cent of the population, have voted for the UDF.
An angry Left
However, this decision has left the Left, Congress’ main rival in Kerala, seething. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday that Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad sent a “wrong signal about secular forces of the country”.
The Communist Party of India has fielded P.P. Suneer from the constituency.
Also read: Six parties vow to join hands with Cong in MP; CPI, CPI(M) reluctant
“Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Kerala. It is a direct contest against the Left. The Left Democratic Front has the strength to face any such challenges in this election,” Vijayan said, addressing reporters at the Press Club in Thiruvananthapuram.
“Let him contest and show us if he can win. The message is just wrong,” said CPM leader and Palakkad Lok Sabha MP M.B. Rajesh.
“By taking this decision, Rahul Gandhi has shown that the Congress is not committed to the unity of secular forces in India as they have been saying throughout,” Rajesh added.
No matter which way this is spun, this betrays complete lack of self confidence. A potential Prime Minister uncertain whether he can retain his pocket borough.
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