The Congress on Tuesday announced sitting MLA Ajay Rai as its Lok Sabha candidate from Varanasi against the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal.
A former BJP leader, Rai joined the Samajwadi Party in 2009 to contest against Murli Manohar Joshi after being denied a ticket by the saffron party. He finished third behind Joshi and the BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari. Rai later quit the Samajwadi Party to join the Congress.
Considered a local strongman, Rai won his first assembly election in 1996 on a BJP ticket by defeating nine-time CPI MLA Udal from Kolasla (now Pindra) — a seat he now holds as a Congress legislator. He won the next two assembly elections in 2002 and 2007, contesting from the same seat for the BJP.
Congress leader Rajeshpati Tripathi, grandson of late Kamlapati Tripathi, later played a major role in inducting Rai into the Congress despite stiff opposition from a section of the party. Rai won the 2012 assembly election from Pindra as a Congress candidate.
“Narendra Modi is an outsider like Murli Manohar Joshi. No outsider will be able to carry out development work in Kashi (Varanasi). Only a local candidate can ensure development in this historic city,” Rai said about the poll contest in Varanasi.
Rai's candidature, meanwhile, has disappointed a party section led by former MP Rajesh Mishra. Mishra’s name was being considered for the Varanasi Lok Sabha ticket among those of other local leaders.
The Congress had earlier said it would field a strong candidate against Modi in Varanasi.
Modi is also contesting from Vadodara in Gujarat where the Congress has fielded party general secretarty Madhusudan Mistry. Kejriwal announced his candidature against Modi in Varanasi after visiting the temple town on March 26.
Varanasi goes to the polls May 12, the last day of polling for the nine-phase Lok Sabha election.
With inputs from Agencies