Priyanka Gandhi
File photo shows Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at an election rally. In the background is a poster of her brother Rahul Gandhi. Image: PTI

Wayanad: With Rahul's exit, Priyanka Gandhi's win is almost a given

Spotlight on how Left handles Wayanad by-poll; Congress's Kerala unit may lean on Priyanka's campaign for Assembly by-polls in Palakkad and Chelakkara, too

When Rahul Gandhi stated that neither Wayanad nor Rae Bareli would regret his decision to vacate one seat, it was clear he intended to keep the latter, given the resurgence the INDIA bloc has made in the Hindutva heartland, challenging the Yogi Adityanath administration and Narendra Modi's presence in Varanasi.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K Sudhakaran even made it clear by saying that no one within the party fold should be sad by Rahul's decision.

"It's a fact that all of us including me will be sad once Rahul takes that decision. However, we shouldn't be sad that Rahul Gandhi, who is meant to lead the nation, cannot stay in Wayanad. Instead, we should all understand this and offer him our best wishes and support," he said last week.

No surprise

It was anticipated that someone with an emotional connect with the people of north Kerala, like Rahul, would contest in the by-poll there. It’s no surprise that his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is taking his place, contesting in the by-election in Wayanad.

Rahul's decision to contest from the Wayanad constituency in 2019 was a significant boost for the Congress and the UDF, despite the displeasure of his leftist allies, the CPI(M) and CPI, in Delhi. He hoped this move would strengthen the party's presence in southern India.

Unfortunately for the Congress, the success of this strategy was limited to Kerala, where the Congress-led UDF won 19 out of 20 seats, capitalising on the Rahul wave and Hindu voters' dissatisfaction with the LDF government following the Sabarimala controversy. The anticipated impact in Karnataka did not materialise, and the BJP-led NDA secured a comfortable number of Lok Sabha seats in the 2024 election.

Rahul's strategy

Interestingly, in 2019, Rahul chose not to attack the Left leadership and still secured over 64 per cent of the votes in Wayanad against CPI candidate PP Suneer. This time, the situation was different as the left fielded Annie Raja, a prominent CPI figure, posing a serious challenge.

Rahul adopted a more confrontational stance, launching a scathing attack on the CPI(M) and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. His vote share dropped slightly to 59 per cent, but the Congress nearly replicated its 2019 success, winning 18 seats despite losing an additional seat to the BJP.

When Priyanka Gandhi contests from Wayanad, it would be her electoral debut. Her entering the fray from South India is reminiscent of her mother Sonia Gandhi running against Sushma Swaraj in Bellary, Karnataka, in 1999.

Kerala will be seeing siblings contesting from the same seat, one replacing the other, for the first time.

Solid presence

Priyanka played an active role alongside her brother in the two previous Wayanad elections and has already established a strong connection with Kerala voters. Her . victory is more or less unquestioned.

However, it will be interesting to see the Left's strategy, given its current demoralised state, in contrast to the Congress, which is experiencing a revival and is buoyed by its strong performance as part of the INDIA bloc against a seemingly invincible Modi and BJP.

The BJP this time filed state president K Surendran but failed to make an impact in Wayanad even though he could garner 1.41 lakh votes.

Upbeat mood

The latest decision by the Congress high command is sure to leave the Kerala unit of the party in an upbeat mood, as it can capitalise on a campaign not only for the Wayanad by-election but also for the assembly by-elections in Palakkad and Chelakkara.

The latter is a CPI(M) seat, and winning it could significantly boost the Congress's prospects in the upcoming 2025 local self-government polls and 2026 Assembly elections.

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