Five-time MLA Ajai Rai, picked by the Congress for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, kicked off his campaign on Wednesday with the ‘local versus outsider’ slogan to counter the perceived wave for his BJP rival Narendra Modi.
“I have stood by the people here for 15 years while Modi is best recalled as a rioter from Gujarat. I, being the son of the soil, have a network on the ground but outsiders such as Modi, Mukhtar Ansari (Quami Ekta Dal) and Kejriwal (AAP) don’t,” said Rai, surrounded by his supports – some wielding weapons – at his Chetganj residence here.
Defeating Modi could be a mammoth task but Rai says he knows the strengths and weaknesses of the area, having been a legislator five times, thrice as a BJP leader. He quit the BJP after the party denied him a ticket for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Read: People know Modi as a rioter from Gujarat, says Congress Varanasi candidate Ajay Rai
As Congress candidate, Rai finished third in 2009 behind BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and Ansari, then with BSP.
Many believe the local-outsider angle is one of few options for Rai, who has many cases against him. But Dipak Malik of Gandhian Institute of Studies feels Modi does not fit in Varanasi’s profile. “Varanasi has had a history of nationalism while Gujarat has a corporate model, and the two do not gel. Though being an outsider is not a crime, logically a contestant should be one who is working in a particular constituency,” he said.
Political scientist Rachna Srivastava feels a local candidate clued in to local problems might be the right option for voters. “That does not mean the road to success is easy for a local person. The disadvantage in being local is that people know you well. Hence perception matters,” Malik said.