Varanasi, April 25: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will not contest from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this national election. The Congress today named as its Varanasi candidate Ajay Rai, who placed third in the 2014 election.
The announcement, on a day PM Modi begins a mega roadshow in Varanasi as a prelude to filing his election papers tomorrow, effectively ends all speculation about a giant clash in the temple town.
The Congress reportedly debated pitting Priyanka Gandhi, often called its "Brahmastra", against PM Modi but caution won out.
Last week, Rahul Gandhi, to a question on whether he planned to field his sister against PM Modi, told The Hindu newspaper: "I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing."
In 2014, Ajay Rai finished a poor third in Varanasi, with only 75,000 votes. The Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal came second with around two lakh votes. None of them came anywhere close to the Prime Minister’s 5.8 lakh.
The opposition gathbandhan of Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s BSP also has its own candidate. The Samajwadi Party has named Shalini Yadav, the daughter-in-law of a former Congress lawmaker as the opposition candidate from Varanasi.
Priyanka Gandhi, 47, had said till now that she would contest from Varanasi "if the party asks me".
Since she joined politics in January and was appointed one of the two general secretaries in charge of the Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh, there had been buzz about the party fielding her against PM Modi.
Priyanka Gandhi was given charge of eastern UP, which includes Varanasi. Her three-day boat campaign last month also ended in Varanasi, and this was read by many as more proof that the Congress was ready to go for broke.
Priyanka Gandhi did nothing to stop the rumours. During an interaction with Congress workers who wanted her to contest from Raebareli, her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, she said: "Why not Varanasi?"
While campaigning in UP, Priyanka Gandhi has often spoken about what she calls PM Modi’s neglect of Varanasi as he roamed the world. "I was stunned to hear from people in Varanasi that in five years, the PM didn’t get time to go to a single village, visit even one family in his constituency," she has said in rally after rally, accusing PM Modi of running a government indifferent to the poor.
Varanasi votes on May 19 in the last phase of the national elections. The results of the seven-phase polls will be announced on May 23.