Barely a month ahead of the expected announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule, Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) chairperson Sonia Gandhi has opted for a Rajya Sabha berth instead of contesting again from Raebareli that she has represented since 2004. Her decision to take the Upper House route triggered talk in party circles about her daughter and All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may make her electoral debut from Raebareli in the parliamentary polls.
Gandhi will contest from Rajasthan, where the Congress is in a position to win one of the three seats up for grabs in the February 27 polls. Her decision to contest from Rajasthan and not from the vacancies available in the southern states of Telangana or Karnataka, where the party is in government, is aimed at sending a signal that the Gandhi family is not abandoning the Hindi heartland. Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad and Amethi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections came in for criticism both inside and outside the party.
The Congress was routed in the Hindi heartland in 2019, with Rahul himself losing from Amethi to current Union Minister Smriti Irani. The drubbing was so severe that the party drew a blank in Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi, won only one seat in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, and managed just two seats in Chhattisgarh. Sources said Rahul might contest again from Amethi and Wayanad and Priyanka could replace her mother in the family borough of Raebareli.
Sonia became an MP for the first time in 1999 from Amethi, a seat once represented by her late husband Rajiv Gandhi. She shifted to Rae Bareli in 2004, leaving Amethi for Rahul. Sonia will become the second member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to enter the Rajya Sabha. Her mother-in-law and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a member of the Upper House from 1964 to 1967 before she won the Lok Sabha election from Raebareli.
Gandhi family’s South connection
Members of the Gandhi family in the past have sought southern comfort during challenging times but rarely took the Rajya Sabha route. Indira took the Rajya Sabha route early in her political career. In 1978, she turned to Karnataka to contest a Lok Sabha by-election from Chikkamagaluru and trounced her Janata Party rival Veerendra Patil. In 1980, Indira contested from Raebareli and Medak in undivided Andhra Pradesh. She won both and chose to retain Medak.
In 1999, Sonia chose Bellary in Karnataka when she decided to take the political plunge. The Congress is positioned to win three of the four seats in Karnataka, two of the three in Telangana, and one each in Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Of the 56 MPs retiring on April 2 and 3, 28 are from the BJP and 10 are from the Congress. The party has the strength to get one of its members elected in Maharashtra but the exit of former CM Ashok Chavan and the speculation that several party MLAs too might quit have injected an element of uncertainty.
The Congress is likely to announce the rest of the candidates Tuesday night. Sources said Sonia would file her nomination papers on Wednesday. The party announced that the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra would be on a break on Wednesday, indicating that Rahul Gandhi and possibly Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge would accompany Sonia to Jaipur. The three vacancies in Rajasthan arose because of the retirement of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Minister Bhupender Yadav, and the resignation of Kirodi Lal Meena who is now a Rajasthan Cabinet Minister.