Ending speculation that general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would not be fielded against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi, the Congress decided to go with Ajay Rai again. Contesting in 2014 too against Modi from the seat, Rai had finished third, behind Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, getting 75,614 votes.
Do you see any difference in Varanasi in the past five years?
The Gujarat development model highlighted by the BJP in 2014 has failed to deliver here. Whenever the PM came here, he laid foundation stones, but the projects are either incomplete or are not being used for the purpose they were built. The Trade Facilitation Centre is being used for RSS and BJP events, and no programme has been organised for weavers there… When the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was organised this year, all the event-related works were assigned to people from Gujarat… The BJP and PM have used religious city Varanasi as an event venue for political gains.
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What do you think of the massive support Modi got at his roadshow then?
The crowd was brought from Gujarat. Event managers distributed flowers to shower on the PM. In 2014, people had bought the flowers themselves… This time, there is an undercurrent in the Congress’s favour.
Did you request the party for a ticket or did they choose you themselves?
I submitted a request as we have been working here for long.
Earlier it was rumoured that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may contest from Varanasi. Why is she not contesting?
It is up to the party and Priyankaji herself to contest or not. The local party units of Varanasi and Allahabad had passed resolutions that she should contest on either of these seats. The media hyped Varanasi because it is the PM’s constituency… The Gandhi family holds workers in high regard and hence they chose a worker as candidate.
Would Priyanka’s candidature have made a difference?
Some mediapersons said Priyankaji did not contest against Modi probably because she was afraid that her start in politics would be ruined. I say, Priyankaji certainly would have been a strong contender here… (But) we have been present with the public for 5 years, it will be good. We have Priyankaji’s support.
Your name was announced two hours before Modi’s roadshow, whereas the BJP decided a month ago. Was the Congress trying to sense the mood to find the best possible candidate?
Only the party leadership can speak on strategy and planning. The party has taken the right decision, at appropriate time.
The SP-BSP alliance is also contesting here. Do you think that it would have been better if they had supported you?
I do not know what the leadership of all these parties discussed and how they decided. Those who say they want to defeat Modi, should realise the Congress is the strongest fighter (against the BJP). They (the SP-BSP) should also have realised this.
Do you think if Priyanka had contested from Varanasi, it would have had a positive effect for the Congress in eastern UP?
Priyankaji ke ladne se unka ghoomna, movement karna zyada upyogi hai (Priyankaji travelling and canvassing is more useful than fighting an election.) The more she travels and connects with people, the more it will benefit the Congress.
Who has the minority vote, you think?
The Congress, across the country.
And the SP-BSP alliance?
They ignored dedicated workers and preferred those who joined recently. Obviously, there is disappointment among workers of the parties… You can see in Chandauli, the SP could not find a candidate in Varanasi, they changed candidates in Mirzapur twice… they are fielding weak candidates.
On which issues are you campaigning in Varanasi?
The biggest issue is unemployment. Second, in the name of developing the Baba Vishwanath Corridor (the Kashi Vishwanath project), Modiji attacked the religious sentiments of people.
Is nationalism an issue in this election?
Three jawans of Varanasi were martyred recently, two of them in the Pulwama attack. Modiji did not even meet their families. Is this rashtrawad? But Priyankaji visited their homes. I am contesting on development and other local issues.