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Rahul may fight from two seats

Three seats in the South have been shortlisted: Medak, Alappuzha and Chikmagalur.

Pankaj Vohra  New Delhi | 1st Mar 2014

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi

t is final. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is all set to contest from two Lok Sabha constituencies for the 2014 general elections. He will seek his re-election from Amethi, besides contesting from a constituency in South India.

Sources in the Congress said that three seats from the southern states have been shortlisted for him: Medak in the Telangana region, Chikmagalur in Karnataka and Alappuzha in Kerala. Medak was represented by Rahul's grandmother Indira Gandhi between 1980 and 1984, and the former Prime Minister, while on her comeback trail had also won from Chikmagalur in Karnataka during the Janata Party regime in the late 1970s. Alappuzha is currently represented by K.C. Venugopal, Minister of State for Civil Aviation in the UPA government.

Speculation over Medak being a possible second seat for Rahul gained momentum after the sitting MP and Telugu actress M. Vijayashanthi, a member of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), joined the Congress earlier this week. The admission of the actress, while talks about a possible merger of the TRS with the Congress were still in progress, raised many eyebrows in the state's political circles. Besides Vijayashanthi, who has expressed her desire to contest an Assembly seat, the Adilabad MLA, Arvind Reddy too has joined the Congress from the TRS. The Congress leadership believes that with the bill to divide Andhra Pradesh passed by both Houses of Parliament, the party shall get a good number of seats in Telangana.

Medak has been shortlisted also because of its emotional appeal. Indira Gandhi had contested the 1980 Lok Sabha elections from both Rae Bareli and Medak, and after winning the two seats, decided to represent the southern constituency. She had lost from Rae Bareli in 1977 to the late Raj Narain by under 60,000 votes, but trounced Vijaya Raje Scindia in 1980 in a contest billed as a fight between Mrs India versus Mrs Scindia.

Similarly, Chikmagalur too has been shortlisted because of its connect with Indira Gandhi, who had won from there in a 1978 byelection, defeating former Karanataka Chief Minister Virendra Patil. Speculation about it being a possible seat for Rahul Gandhi started when on the last day of Parliament, Congress president Sonia Gandhi invited D.K. Taradevi Siddhartha, former Union minister and party leader from Chikmagalur, to sit with her in the Central Hall of Parliament. Panabaka Lakshmi, Union Minister of State from Seemandhra and two other women leaders from North India also shared quality time with the Congress boss. Taradevi Siddhartha's family is well entrenched in Karnataka and Indira Gandhi had stayed in their house in Chikmagalur when she contested the election from there. For the last few years, she has been ignored by the Congress president and has even been denied a ticket. Therefore, it was unusual for her to be seated next to the party boss in full public view.

Chikmagalur has been shortlisted because of its connect with Indira Gandhi, who had won from there in a 1978 byelection.

The third seat shortlisted for Rahul Gandhi is Alappuzha near Kochi, considered to be a stronghold of the Congress. If the Congress vice president contests from there, his victory will be a foregone conclusion.

It is not unusual for members of the Gandhi family to contest from two seats. Even Sonia Gandhi had contested from Bellary in Karnataka in 1999 besides the family stronghold of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. In Bellary, she defeated Sushma Swaraj to drive home the point that the family's acceptance was as much in the South as it was in North. Later she gave up Bellary to retain Amethi. However, she gave up Amethi for Rahul Gandhi in 2004 and moved to Rae Bareli, a constituency represented earlier by her father-in-law, the late Feroze Gandhi and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi has been under pressure to also look at an option other than Amethi, which was once represented by his parents, Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi and also his uncle, the late Sanjay Gandhi. Congress strategists believe that the going in Amethi could be tough despite the fact that the party recently gave a Rajya Sabha seat to Sanjay Singh, the erstwhile Raja of Amethi from Assam. Sanjay Singh was a member of the 15th Lok Sabha from adjoining Sultanpur seat and was giving an impression of moving toward the BJP, forcing the Congress leadership to accommodate him in the Rajya Sabha, creating a perception that the party was indeed worried about Amethi. He is now seeking a ticket from Sultanpur for his wife, Amita and she could contest against Rahul's cousin Feroze Varun Gandhi and Indira Gandhi's grandson, who is likely to be the BJP candidate from there.

Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has decided to field Kumar Vishwas from Amethi, the Congress vice president's position there does not seem to be under any grave threat. However, if the Samajwadi Party was to put up a Muslim Gujjar candidate from there, the contest in Amethi could become open. The Congress high command, therefore, does not want to take any chances.

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