The Congress has lost the first-mover advantage in Varanasi due to the delay in announcing its candidate against BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal.
Although Varanasi goes to polls on May 12 and the last date of filing of nominations is April 24, the party continues to keep the name of its nominee close to its chest. It says there is still enough time.
But since the other parties have already stolen a march over the Congress and are aggressively campaigning, the delay has caused anxiety among local leaders, many of whom have joined the BJP.
The contest, so far, is mainly between Modi and Kejriwal though the Samajwadi Party has nominated its minister Kailash Chaurasia and the Bahujan Samaj Party is likely to field business man Vijay Prakash Jaiswal.
The Congress has so far maintained that it will field a "strong" candidate, who could give a credible fight to both Modi and Kejriwal. A state leader said, "Our workers are feeling frustrated while the exuberance and excitement among our rivals is quite visible."
Sources in the UP Congress said the state leadership has been kept "out of the loop" on the issue. "State Congress leaders have no clue what is happening on the candidate front," another leader said.
While a section of the party is pushing for former Brahmin MP Rajesh Mishra, another group wants the ticket for Bhumihar leader Ajay Rai.
But there's one section in the state unit that thinks the party should not hype the fight for Varanasi so much. It also rubbishes the decision to take Varanasi out of the list of 16 constituencies where it initially planned to hold US-style primaries.
This was done in view of its assessment that Modi would contest from the seat. "There was no need to do that. We should have named our candidate and given him enough support to take on Modi or whosoever it was," a central functionary said.
Many senior leaders, including general secretary Digvijaya Singh and former spokesman Rashid Alvi, had offered to fight Modi.
Although the names of another general secretary Mohan Prakash, Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Tiwari and former state chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi have been doing the rounds now, the leadership is apparently wants a local leader – either a Brahmin or a Bhumihar – in Varanasi.