Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who decided to contest from Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala besides his traditional stronghold of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, is leading from Wayanad.
While Gandhi was elected to the Parliament from his traditional Amethi seat for three terms in a row, this Lok Sabha election, he took the advice of his party workers and chose to contest from Wayanad in Kerala in addition to his stronghold. But it didn't come without criticism. The Congress president's decision was followed by accusations that he was running away, scared that BJP's Smriti Irani, who came a bit too close for comfort in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, might just defeat him this time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even raised a few eyebrows when he said in a rally that Gandhi was running away from a seat with majority Hindu population to one where Hindus were a minority. Gandhi's candidature from Wayanad had also caused cracks in the Congress-Left relationship.
In fact, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that Gandhi's contest in Wayanad in the state could only be seen as a move to fight the Left parties and not the BJP.
So why did Rahul decide to contest from here despite all the criticisms?
First, it could have been a safe bet. Since the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency was formed in 2009, it has elected a Congress leader in both 2009 and 2014 general elections. It also has a majority Muslim population, a community that is a traditional voter base for the grand old party. Muslims form nearly 27 percent of the state’s population of about 33.4 million, and Christians roughly 18 percent, census figures show.
Second, the BJP has been trying build its presence in South India, especially Kerala, where the Congress and a communist party are the main players. Gandhi decided to take this opportunity to galvanise party workers through his candidacy. The BJP has been making steady inroads into the electoral politics in the state, eating into the vote share of both the UDF and the LDF. The entry of a third player invariably creates tensions.
Third, to stop Modi. “I am here to send a message that south India is important,” he told reporters as thousands of party members lined the streets of the small town in welcome when he first attended a rally in Wayanad. “There is a feeling in south India that the way the government, RSS and Narendra Modi are working... many people in the country feel that their culture, language and history are under attack,” Gandhi had said.
Fourth was the Sabarimala issue. The BJPbecame the self-proclaimed voice of the Hindu devotees, organising large public demonstrations and campaigns to oppose the government following the Sabarimala verdict. With this, the Congress in Kerala was on a somewhat slippery slope. Rahul Gandhi's announcement to contest from Wayanad somewhat changed the sentiment of how the Congress party is seen in the state.
It's going to be a tight race in Kerala.