The BJP in a late night decision on Monday named actor-politician Smriti Irani as its Amethi candidate to take on Rahul Gandhi and make a match of a contest tilted heavily in favour of the Congress vice-president.
Contrary to speculation, the BJP opted for a Supreme Court lawyer, Ajay Aggarwal, and not Uma Bharti, for Rae Bareli from where Congress president Sonia Gandhi is seeking a re-election.
With the Congress making public its intention to put up a "formidable" candidate against its PM candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi, the BJP decided to challenge Rahul, who is leading the Congress’ Lok Sabha campaign.
The party expects its Rajya Sabha MP to put up a "tough" fight in a likely triangular contest in which Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas, a poet, is the third contestant.
The Samajwadi Party, which is in power in Uttar Pradesh, has decided against fielding candidates from the Gandhi pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
Irani, who became a household name playing Tulsi in a popular TV soap, has served the party in various capacities — national secretary, chief of women's wing and now as a vice-president.
The 38-year-old, feels the party, would not only add glamour to the fight, but will also have the advantage of being the only prominent woman candidate from Amethi that goes to the polls on May 7.
"She is an energetic politician, who will make a difference despite the delayed announcement of her candidature," a BJP leader said.
The party didn’t opt for Bharti as she was reluctant to give up the Jhansi seat from where her candidature had been announced. "The party was not willing to concede to her demand for contesting from two seats in Uttar Pradesh," BJP sources said.
Earlier, she had flip-flopped on the party's offer to take on Sonia. First, Bharti said she would not leave Jhansi but a few days later she declared that she was ready to contest both the seats.
Minutes after his he was named the Rae Bareli candidate, Aggarwal told reporters that it was his petition before the Supreme Court in the Taj corridor case that eventually led to the fall of Mayawati government. He claimed contributing “a lot in exposing the truth in Bofors scandal”.
The BJP, said sources, was also close to sealing an alliance with N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), delayed by last-minute glitches over seat-sharing. The talks with the TDP were "not over" and might take "a couple of more days", the party said.
The BJP wants to contest 40 of the 119 assembly seats and eight of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana. "We are even ready to accept two or three Lok Sabha seats (of 25) in Seemandhra, but agreeing to anything less than 25 assembly seats (out of 175) would be not possible," a BJP leader said.
Andhra Pradesh is holding assembly polls along with the Lok Sabha polls in two phases – April 30 in Telangana and May 7 in Seemandhra. The southern state is to be split on June 2 when a formal notification will name Telangana as the 29th state of the Indian union.