Cong pitches Ajai Rai against Modi in Varanasi

Cong pitches Ajai Rai against Modi in Varanasi

Ending speculations, the Congress has pitched sitting MLA Ajai Rai against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

Days after promising that it will field a “strong” candidate, the ruling party on Tuesday announced its Pindra MLA’s name, who finished third behind BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Mukhtar Ansari while contesting from the seat as the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress, which was initially keen on fielding a consensus candidate, appealed to all non-BJP parties to extend their “support and favour” Rai to ensure victory of “Congress’ ideology over that of the BJP”.

Even as senior leaders of the party like Digvijay Singh and Anand Sharma had expressed their willingness to challenge Modi in Varanasi, the Congress high command preferred to bank on Rai for being a “grass root worker” and for being connected with the local people.

“He is well acquainted with the culture, history, issues and pain of the people of Varanasi. He has a history of electoral success and is known well in the area,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, adding that Rai’s nomination was approved by the Congress president after examining the candidature of other senior leaders.

The Congress leader dismissed the suggestions that the party has put up a weak candidate in Varanasi as a “quid pro quo” with the BJP in Raebareli from where Sonia is contesting.

Rai’s nomination came days after the Congress fielded its general secretary Madhusudan Mistry to contest against Modi from Vadodara.

Rai, who has been a five-time MLA and has switched parties twice, shot to limelight in state politics in 1996 after he defeated nine-term sitting Communist Party of India MLA Udal in the Assembly elections as a young BJP candidate.

He later quit the BJP and joined SP to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 after the saffron party denied him a ticket. He lost the election but secured 18.6 per cent of the votes.

Rai is considered to have his sway over a sizeable chunk of the Bhumihar-Brahmin voters, which Modi will have to wean away to seal his victory.

The MLA, however, will have to settle scores with his bete noire Ansari, who pushed him to third in the last elections securing about 28 per cent votes.

Ansari is once again contesting from the seat as an independent candidate, while the BSP has fielded Vijay Agrawal, a history sheeter and brother of former MP and eastern Uttar Pradesh’s liquor mafia Jawahar Jaiswal.

Rai will also have to face Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and SP’s Kailash Chaurasia.

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