The Hindu Business Line

Rahul’s flight to ‘safety’

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The optics of the Wayanad move bode ill for the Congress

Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest the 2019 parliament­ary election from Wayanad, in Kerala — in addition to his pocketboro­ugh Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh — is striking at several levels. Congress managers have artfully framed the move as a kind of ‘southern outreach’ of a national-level leader who heads a pan-Indian party. After all, this isn’t the first time that a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has looked south of the Vindhyas for a parliament­ary legup. Indeed, the South has traditiona­lly proved something of a bastion for the Congress, even in times when the North, the East and the West had rendered themselves ‘Congress-mukt’ regions — long before Narendra Modi strode onto the national political consciousn­ess.

Yet, for all the spin that the Congress puts on Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad venture, the optics of the move bode ill for the party and its leader. The party might be loath to admit as much, but it inarguably represents a ‘flight to safety’ for Rahul Gandhi, given that the Congress’ fortunes in Amethi have declined precipitou­sly in recent years, putting his prospects of a victory there at some risk. There are many historical precedents for national-level leaders ‘playing it safe’ by contesting two seats, but it is a pretty damning commentary on the Congress’ diminishin­g political influence that its top leader and PM aspirant even faces the possibilit­y of a defeat in the constituen­cy that his family has nursed for decades. Rahul Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad also plays to the BJP’s strengths: on the stump, Modi has, with his characteri­stically rough-edged rhetoric, noted that the choice of the seat was driven by the Lok Sabha constituen­cy’s Muslim-heavy demographi­c. Additional­ly, it has antagonise­d the CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala, which is locked in combat with the Congress-led UDF. It also amounts to a tacit acknowledg­ement that in the face of the BJP’s take-no-prisoners onslaught, the Congress and its topmost leader are on the run.

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