iconimg Thursday, September 03, 2015

Aurangzeb Naqshbandi , Hindustan Times
New Delhi, May 07, 2014
The Congress is planning to return Narendra Modi’s compliment —  its vice-president Rahul Gandhi is likely to take the battle to BJP’s PM candidate in Varanasi on May 10 as a “fitting response” to his rally in Amethi.

“There is a strong possibility that he will campaign in Varanasi but I will let you know the final details tomorrow,” Madhusudan Mistry, a key strategist in Rahul’s team and Congress general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, told HT Tuesday.

HT was first to write, on Monday, about the party discussing Rahul’s visit. Breaking the unwritten code of top leaders steering clear of each other’s turfs, Modi Monday held a rally in Amethi, from where Rahul is seeking a third term, and attacked the Congress’ first family in their pocket borough.

If the Congress plays according to the script, Rahul will land in the temple town two days after Modi’s “show of strength” on May 8. “Why shouldn’t he?” asked Mistry, who went up against the Gujarat strongman in Vadodara that voted on April 30.

Modi is pitted against the Congress’ Ajay Rai and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi that votes on May 12, the final day of the polling.

Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has aggressively taken on Modi in the last few days, will likely give Varanasi a miss. “Priyanka told us that she had decided against going to Varanasi before May 12,” a party leader from Uttar Pradesh said.

After Modi’s Amethi show, there was a strong view in the Congress, particularly among the younger lot, for “a fitting response”, sources said. The feeling was that Rahul should “pay Modi back in the same coin”. Rahul’s presence in the holy city would galvanise the cadre in eastern Uttar Pradesh, also known as Poorvanchal, where 18 seats go to the polls on May 12.

UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the highest in the country.

“If he doesn’t go, the BJP, and even AAP, will say that the Congress leader was scared of Modi,” a young Congress secretary said on the condition of anonymity. “We should confront him and not be seen to be running away.”

But, there is a section that favours “ignoring” Modi’s Amethi meeting since Rahul’s rally may not dramatically alter voter sentiment in favour of the Congress candidate, who is on a “weak wicket”.

Party leaders said they did not want Rahul to be in Varanasi on the same day as Modi. Moreover, his schedule for May 9, which would see him travelling to Domariyaganj, Bansgaon and Deoria, had been sealed. May 10, the last day of campaigning, was the most convenient date. It would be the best way to wind up the campaign, a Congress leader said. And, a counterpunch too -- Modi’s Amethi rally ended minutes before campaigning for the eighth phase drew to a close.