Priyanka Gandhi’s candidature may turn Wayanad bypoll into battle of women contenders as CPI, BJP preps

CPI will field a candidate from the Left coalition, and the main constituent BJP is most likely to field a candidate from the NDA camp.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 20, 2024 | 12:00 PM Updated Jun 20, 2024 | 12:00 PM

Priyanka Gandhi attacks BJP government

The picturesque district of Wayanad will once again capture the nation’s attention as it is set to become the epicentre of a political showdown.

Following Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s strategic move to vacate the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat for Raebareli, the party has announced that his sister Priyanka Gandhi will contest the ensuing bypoll, which will also mark her electoral debut.

However, the stakes are equally high for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), both of whom are scrambling to field candidates who can match Priyanka’s appeal.

CPI will field a candidate from the Left coalition, and the main constituent BJP is most likely to field a candidate from the NDA camp. If not, it might ask BDJS to field a candidate.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi to retain Raebareli, Priyanka to contest from Wayanad: Kharge

UDF camp in high spirits

The United Democratic Front (UDF) is riding a wave of optimism, convinced that Priyanka’s charisma and political lineage will secure a resounding victory.

The UDF camp is also in high spirits, buoyed by the belief that Priyanka’s entry will reinvigorate the party’s base and attract a new cohort of voters.

“Hers is a charismatic personality. She connects with the masses effectively. She carries the legacy and is often seen as empathetic and approachable. Her grassroots engagement and efforts to address local issues have earned her admiration. We expect a landslide victory for her,” a leader from the Wayanad District Congress Committee to South First.

The leader added that the party would effectively counter the allegations of CPI and BJP and make voters aware of the context in which Rahul contested and his decision to choose the Raebareli constituency.

“CPI says that Congress chooses a safe place for Rahul to contest. But we all know that it was not the case,” he said.

“Rahul chose Wayanad as a political statement to BJP’s move to alienate the south. It should be remembered that Rahul got invitations from all the southern states, and yet he chose Wayand,” he added.

“His candidature here also had its influence in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as the district shares boundaries with both these states,” said the leader.

Commenting on BJP’s pointed attack of nepotism regarding Priyanka’s candidature, he said it is based on merit and her ability to connect with the electorate rather than solely her family name.

“This decision will have to be seen as the party’s strategic decision to project Rahul Gandhi as its face in the north and Priyanka Gandhi in the south. This approach leverages the party’s unique strengths and will help to connect with different regional demographics. This demonstrates a calculated strategy rather than nepotism,” added the leader.

Also read: Congress needs to decide who its ‘biggest enemy’ is, says Annie Raja

CPI to fight BJP

In the case of LDF, the Communist Party of India (CPI) is most likely to field Annie Raja again.

Annie, a seasoned politician and a prominent face of CPI, garnered significant support in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections, where she finished as the runner-up in Wayanad.

Her performance has naturally positioned her as a frontrunner within her party for the upcoming bypoll.

Despite the buzz surrounding her potential candidacy, Annie Raja has publicly stated that no formal discussions have taken place within the party regarding the bypoll.

“There have been no official talks about my candidacy. The party leadership, along with the LDF, will take a collective decision after thorough deliberations,” she told reporters.

CPI’s internal deliberations will likely focus on the need to present a candidate who can effectively counter the influence of Congress and BJP, in which the former had already fielded a strong contender.

The party’s decision will hinge on a range of factors, including the candidate’s ability to mobilize grassroots support, articulate the party’s vision, and engage with diverse voter demographics.

At the same time, there are also demands from some quarters that the LDF should not field a candidate against Priyanka.

To this, CPI state secretary Binoy Viswam, the other day, told the media that the party is contesting to ensure that non-Congress votes do not go to the BJP.

He also criticised the decision of Congress to field Rahul in Raebareli and Wayanad, saying that the party should have taken up the challenge to fight against BJP by fielding Rahul in the North alone.

‘Bravest of all’: Priyanka Gandhi hails Rahul’s efforts after poll outcome

BJP for strategic calculations

As for BJP, it will be under significant pressure to field a candidate who can effectively challenge Priyanka Gandhi’s formidable debut.

Historically, BJP has struggled to secure a strong foothold in the Wayanad constituency, making this bypoll an important opportunity to bolster its presence in Kerala.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP allowed ally Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) to contest the Wayanad seat. However, it failed to make a significant impact.

Learning from past experiences, BJP decided to take a more direct approach in 2024 by fielding its state president K Surendran against Rahul Gandhi.

Despite a vigorous campaign, Surendran finished in third place, highlighting the challenges the party faces in this region. However, the vote share increased.

Though the candidature is determined by BJP’s central leadership, some party insiders said that Surendran is unlikely to contest again.

When DMK’s Kanimozhi Karunanidhi mocked Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai for not winning a single election, a similar comparison was also made about K Surendran, who is yet to win a poll.

“It’s usual that voters might get influenced by a star candidate. It will not be a surprise if the party (BJP) decides to field a star candidate from its side. The state leadership has no one in mind. Let the central leadership decide it,” said a BJP leader.

Some party sources also said Sobha Surendran, a prominent and influential leader within the party, might be a probable candidate as she is considered a viable contender who can bring fresh energy to the BJP’s campaign in Wayanad.

They said her recent electoral performance, reputation as a dynamic leader, and experience in state politics could attract a broader base of voters, particularly those looking for an alternative to the Congress and LDF candidates.

With Congress already fielding Priyanka Gandhi, CPI likely to nominate Annie Raja, and BJP expected to field a strong woman candidate, the stage will be set for a rare political battle among three prominent women candidates.

Moreover, the outcome of this election will not only be significant for Wayanad but also for Kerala as a whole, as the constituency could send its lone woman MP to the 18th Lok Sabha.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)

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