The Congress Thursday announced the candidature of Ajay Rai from Varanasi constituency in Uttar Pradesh, putting to rest speculation that party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rai, who was also the party’s candidate in 2014, will once again fight Narendra Modi, who is expected to file his nomination papers from the seat on Friday.
In 2014, Rai managed to poll just 75,000 votes, and finished third, behind Aam Aadmi Party convener Arvind Kejriwal. It was widely speculated that Priyanka would contest the polls from Varanasi. She had also hinted that she was open to contesting from the seat should her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi approve her candidature.
Ajai Rai @kashikirai to again Contest against PM Modi in Varanasi as Congress candidate. Ironically, UP Police had issued “yellow card” to him just four days back with a warning that crowd should not assemble inside or outside his house n h is under watch. @IndianExpress
— Maulshree Seth (@MaulshreeSeth) April 25, 2019
Rai, a five-time MLA, belongs to the Bhumihar community and has a considerable following among Brahmins and Bhumihars. He began his political career in the BJP’s student wing. He was elected to the UP Assembly from the Kolasla constituency three times in a row between 1996 and 2007 on a BJP ticket.
After being denied a ticket by the party for the 2007 state polls, he joined the Samajwadi Party and fought the 2009 Lok Sabha elections; he came third behind BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari.
The same year, he contested the by-polls from the Kolasla constituency as an Independent and was nominated to the state Assembly again.
After the delimitation of this constituency, Rai won the 2012 Assembly elections from Pindra constituency, falls in the Varanasi district, on a Congress ticket. In the subsequent 2017 state polls, he lost the seat to BJP’s Avadhesh Singh.
Among the candidates in the fray from Varanasi is Shalini Yadav, who is contesting from Varanasi for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. Shalini is the daughter-in-law of late Shyamlal Yadav, former Congress MP from Varanasi and Union minister.
Varanasi votes on May 19 in the last phase of the polls. The results will be declared on May 23.