Congress president Sonia Gandhi remained conspicuous by her absence as campaigning in the assembly seats of Rae Bareli, her Lok Sabha constituency, ended on Tuesday. Polling is scheduled here on Thursday.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who has been leading the party’s campaign, addressed a public meeting on the last day of campaigning. His sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra joined him for a day in Rae Bareli last week. Still, the partymen say they missed Sonia all through.
“Yes, we missed Soniaji in the 2017 assembly election. Although we used to request her to devote her time to campaigning in the rest of country even during Lok Sabha elections, the partymen are missing her this time. But she has not joined the campaign for personal reasons. There are no political reasons,” says Rae Bareli district Congress chief VK Shukla on the phone.
Other senior party leaders, candidates, workers and people of her constituency echo his sentiments. It is for the first time in recent years that the election is being held without the Congress chief campaigning here or anywhere else in the state.
The other star campaigners who have sought votes in the constituency include Captain Satish Sharma, state Congress chief Raj Babbar and actor Nagma. Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav too arrived in the constituency on Tuesday to boost the Congress’s campaign.
The Congress failed to win a single seat in Rae Bareli in the 2012 assembly election. This time, it hopes to win a majority of the five assembly seats here.
Sitting Peace Party MLA Akhilesh Singh has been a major factor on the Rae Bareli assembly seat. The Congress has consistently lost the seat to Singh over the years after expelling him for his criminal antecedents. The Congress has fielded Singh’s daughter Aditi Singh this time. The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Shahwaz Khan is her main challenger. The BJP’s Anita Srivastava is also in the fray.
In Harchandpur, BJP candidate Kanchan Lodhi is hoping the sympathy factor will work in her favour. She is the daughter-in-law of former UP minister Shiv Ganesh Lodhi who died a few days before the assembly elections.
The Congress has fielded Rakesh Singh, the brother of party MLC Dinesh Singh. The BSP has nominated former MP Ashok Singh’s son Manish Singh from the seat.
Initially, the Congress felt its alliance with the SP strengthened its position on the seat. But a subsequent delay in naming the candidate may have denied the Congress an advantage. The Congress candidate also faces a challenge from local businessman Manoj Dwivedi, who wanted the party ticket for his wife Sudha Dwivedi. After the ticket was denied, the couple joined the BJP and began campaigning for the party.
In Sareni, the Congress fielded former MLA Ashok Singh and the SP retained its sitting MLA Devendra Pratap Singh. The BJP’s Dhirendra Bahadur Singh and the BSP’s Thakur Prasad Yadav are making the contests a four-cornered one in the constituency. A similar situation has unfolded in Unchahar where UP minister and SP candidate Manoj Kumar Pandey is pitted against the Congress’ Ajay Pal Singh, known as the Raja of Arkha. Both of them face a challenge from BJP’s Utkarsh Maurya and the BSP’s Vivek Singh, son of former MLA Gajadhar Singh. Utkarsh Maurya is the son of former leader of opposition Swami Prasad Maurya who had quit the BSP and joined the BJP last year.
In Bachhrawan (SC), the Congress announcing Sushil Pasi as its candidate and later replacing him with Saheb Singh Pasi has made the situation difficult for the party. Sushil Pasi is now the Apna Dal candidate for the seat. The other contenders include the BJP’s Ram Naresh Rawat and the BSP’s Shyam Sunder Bharti. The Congress candidate also faces challenge from the SP’s sitting MLA Ram Lal Akela, who is contesting the poll as a Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate.