The Wayanad seat has a strong presence of Muslim and Christian voters and the decision to field Rahul comes after party units in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also sought his candidature. The move, said Congress leaders, should boost the party’s advantage in the state and display a commitment to minorities.
Congress’s rival in the constituency is Left and not BJP. While BJP’s recent gains have made some seats in the state a triangular contest, Wayanad is not one of them. The move prompted Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan to ask Congress to consider if fielding Rahul Gandhi against the Left in Kerala is a politically deft move. “What message will such a contest send out to the nation? Do they want to say instead of BJP, it is the Left that needs to be defeated?” he asked.
Congress sources said they have factored in the likely allegation that the second seat option reflects unease over the situation in the family bastion of Amethi, but said the party has worked out its advantages. The decision will help create a buzz over the Congress chief’s engagement with south India and the minority calculation is a significant plus.
While an announcement can take place as early as Sunday, Congress said Rahul Gandhi will positively consider the proposal of the Kerala unit. Kerala Congress president Mullapally Ramachandran spoke to the media about the Wayanad proposal and party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said a decision will be taken soon.
“Southern state PCCs, lakhs of Congress workers and the people of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have urged Rahul Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha election from these states. Their sentiments are deeply valued and respected,” said Surjewala.
Congress strategists believe a Gandhi family member pitching the poll tent in the south can maximise the party’s gains in key states. That DMK, Congress’s ally in Tamil Nadu, has been at the forefront of projecting Rahul as the PM candidate is seen as a positive factor in the region.
The negative with Wayanad is that it is considered among the safest seats for Congress, with a significant presence of minorities and the Left as rival — which can blunt the bid to project the move as an aggressive outreach. However, the minority factor is said to count even though BJP can be expected to argue that it reflects the party’s penchant for “appeasement” through its political signalling.
The gambit might also be factoring in the possibility that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be considering a seat in south India too just as he chose Varanasi to reach out to north India.
On earlier occasions, Indira Gandhi (Medak, Chikamagalur) contested from the south as also Sonia Gandhi (Bellary). But these were defensive moves, with leaders seeking safe havens. Since then, such safe constituencies have been shrinking and Wayanad may be one of the few still left.
Former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy, while speaking to reporters at Ranni in Pathanamthitta recently, requested Rahul Gandhi to contest from Kerala. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said he had made a request for Wayanad too.
Carved out as a new constituency in 2009, Wayand was won by Congress candidate M I Shanavas both in 2009 and 2014.