There is a buzz in the air that the Congress may field Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as its candidate against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi. But on the ground, the local party unit, while waiting for the leadership to announce a candidate, is yet to get into poll mode. On Wednesday afternoon, a day before Modi’s road show, the local Congress office was locked. “Meeting time is 10 am to 4 pm,” said a note on the wall outside. It was 4.30 pm.
The party office, in the congested Gyan Mandal Plaza market, is on the first floor. “A Congress worker came here this morning, climbed up the 24 steps to the office, but found it locked. After waiting for an hour, he contacted a senior leader who told him a meeting was being held at some other place,” said Sumit Jaiswal, a shopkeeper on the ground floor.
Congress state secretary and in-charge of Varanasi, Durga Prasad Gupta, was at his grocery store, about 100 metres from the party office. “The local party unit is 105 per cent sure that Priyankaji will contest from here. If the party had to field another candidate, it would have already announced the name. There must be a strategy behind the delay,” he said.
He said Priyanka, who was here on March 20, is likely to take another boat ride from Varanasi to Ballia next week. If Priyanka is fielded from Varanasi, the party will also do well in the adjoining constituencies of Bhadohi, Jaunpur, Mirzapur, Ghazipur and Chandauli, he said.
Soon after Priyanka was appointed party general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh — which includes Varanasi — the local Congress unit passed a resolution asking the leadership to announce her candidature against Modi.
Only four days are left for the candidates to file their nominations — Varanasi goes to polls on May 19. Modi is expected to file his nomination on Friday.
“We have held organisational meetings, but we are not able to tour the villages because people are asking who our candidate is. They want to know who we are fielding against Modi,” said Prajanath Sharma, the party’s district president.
He said a coordination committee as well as booth-level committees have been constituted, but the names are not being announced in order to avoid factionalism. “All the names will be announced after the party declares the candidate,” he said.
Gupta said all the booths were told to send lists of workers who could be roped in for a door-to-door campaign. “There are 950 booths in the three urban assembly segments, but only around 650 booths have sent names so far. Once the party announces its candidate, our cadre will automatically get active and prepare for the elections,” he said.
He claimed the local party office is usually open from 10 am to 2 pm. “Our campaign will gain pace only after the party announces the candidate,” he emphasised.
In 2014, when Modi won the seat with 5.81 lakh votes, Congress candidate Ajay Rai polled 75,614 votes. While AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal came second with 2.09 lakh votes, the SP and BSP polled 45,291 and 60,579 votes respectively.
This time, the SP-BSP alliance has fielded Shalini Yadav, who had unsuccessfully contested the mayoral poll as a Congress candidate in 2017. Her father-in-law, Shyamlal Yadav, was a Congress MP from Varanasi.
“The party could support her, to pose a challenge to Modi. But we must contest on our own symbol to send a message across the country,” said a Congress worker.