India's Rahul Gandhi to contest elections from family borough


Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi will contest the general election from the family bastion in the north, his Congress party announced on Friday, a move that will challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a region he dominates.

Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, will contest from Raebareli in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh state, Congress said, in addition to Wayanad in Kerala state in the south, which has already voted. India allows candidates to contest multiple constituencies but they can represent only one.

Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous state and elects 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, the most of any state. At the last election in 2019, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies won 64 seats, including from Amethi, adjacent to Raebareli, where Gandhi was defeated.

His return to the area, albeit for a second constituency, will invigorate the party, Congress officials said.

Gandhi's mother Sonia won from Raebareli in 2019, which has returned a Congress candidate in 17 of the 20 elections held there since 1952, mostly members of the Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi is now a member of the upper house of parliament.

Modi is widely expected to win a rare third term in the general election that got underway on April 19 and concludes on June 1, with votes set to be counted on June 4.

However, analysts say a low voter turnout in the first two phases of the seven-phase election has dampened hopes of a huge majority for the party, although they said the BJP was still likely to retain power in the world's most populous nation.

Soon after the announcement, Gandhi flew to Raebareli in a private aircraft, accompanied by his mother Sonia, sister Priyanka and senior Congress leaders, to file his nomination papers.

"It was our demand that our leader Rahul Gandhi contest from Uttar Pradesh," state Congress president Ajay Rai told news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

"His contesting here will strongly impact the remaining five phases of the elections. Rahul is a fighter, he cannot back off, he is not backing off, he will win with a huge margin," Rai said.

Modi and the BJP attacked Gandhi for the decision.

"I had said that the prince will lose in Wayanad and in fear of his loss...he will look for another seat," Modi said on Friday, referring to Gandhi.

"I also want to tell them wholeheartedly, do not be afraid, do not run away," Modi said.

Congress has ruled India for 54 of its 76 years since independence from Britain, and members of the Nehru-Gandhi family were prime ministers for more than 37 of those 54 years.

However, the party has floundered since it was swept out of power by Modi in 2014 and has been struggling to revive itself.

Gandhi will face BJP's state minister Dinesh Pratap Singh, who lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2019.

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