After Sonia Gandhi’s Rajya Sabha Shift, Buzz Around Her Raebareli Seat

Sonia Gandhi files her Rajya Sabha papers with Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi looking on.

New Delhi:

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi‘s Lok Sabha-to-Rajya Sabha shift this year – from representing Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh to the state of Rajasthan – was supposed to signal a change in the leadership structure of a party many see as struggling for relevance – the November Telangana win aside – before the general election.

Ms Gandhi – a 25-year veteran of the Lower House and the face of the Congress, in parliament and outside – this week said she would not seek re-election from Raebareli, a Congress stronghold previously held by Feroze Gandhi and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The 77-year-old Ms Gandhi this morning said “health and increasing age” meant she would not contest the Lok Sabha election, and she called on the people of Raebareli to “be with my family”.

That the Congress will field, so long as is possible, a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family from Raebareli (particularly after the 2019 loss of its other UP stronghold, Amethi, to the BJP) is a given.

READ | Sonia Gandhi Shifts To Rajya Sabha. End Of Era, Big Change For Congress

The question, then, is which member of the family will stand from Raebareli.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

There is widespread speculation Ms Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, will be that choice, and make her electoral debut from a seat once held by her grandmother, Indira Gandhi; that choice seems all the more plausible given the striking resemblance between the two.

Ms Gandhi Vadra, though, has been here before – on the edge of an electoral contest.

Fielding her from Raebareli might seem like a safe bet, but memories of Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi loss – to a strident campaign by Smriti Irani – must linger, and give the party pause.

A second successive defeat for a Gandhi will be a disastrous turn-up.

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There is also speculation Ms Gandhi Vadra might, in fact, contest the election, but not from Raebareli. She might, instead opt to face Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

READ | “Why Not Varanasi,” Quips Priyanka Gandhi On Poll Fight Request

Often asked this question in the past, Ms Gandhi Vadra has repeatedly said she is ready to do as the Congress asks and requires, an answer that has never fully settled the matter.

Rahul Gandhi

The other option is Rahul Gandhi, who offset his Amethi loss five years ago by winning from Kerala’s Wayanad. There is no indication, however, at present, Mr Gandhi is considering a return to UP.

His letter this week to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan – on man-elephant conflicts in the area – suggests the ex-Congress boss sees his immediate political future in South India.

That said, there are reports of gentle tension between the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), its INDIA ally, over Wayanad, with the Left party wants as part of any seat-sharing agreement.

It remains, for now though, Mr Gandhi’s citadel.

Effectively, that leaves the Congress with a twin problem – who to field from Amethi (most likely against a Smriti Irani raring to repeat her giant-killer feat) and who to position in neighbouring Raebareli. 

In her open letter Ms Gandhi underlined the “close relationship” her family, and the party, has with the seat, saying, “Our family’s ties… run very deep… you made my father-in-law, Feroze Gandhi, win… after him, you made my mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi your own.”

Ms Gandhi also underlined her emotional connect with the people of Raebareli, remembering she stood only a few years after her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, and mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. were assassinated.

Congress In UP

The Congress has been beaten thrice in Raebareli – the first time was in 1977, when post-Emergency elections took the seat from Indira Gandhi and gave it to the Janata Party. The BJP’s Ashok Singh then won in 1996 and 1998, when Indira Gandhi’s cousins, Vikram Kaul and Deepa Kaul, were fielded.

The Congress’ Amethi record is similarly stellar; before Ms Irani’s win, the party had lost this seat only twice before – 1977 (again to the Janata Party) and 1998 (to the BJP).

Apart from these and a few other instances, though, the Congress’ record in Uttar Pradesh isn’t as good as the party might like. In the Lok Sabha, particularly in the last two polls, the party has fared badly.

In 2014, under Mr Gandhi, it won only two seats (down from 21 five years ago) and, five years after that, managed only one – Sonia Gandhi’s Raebareli win, was, literally, the only highlight.

The less than impressive record in Assembly polls over the past decade – two seats in 2022 and seven in 2017 – underlines the extent of the task facing the party when polling booths open in April/May.

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