#PollVault: No Priyanka vs Modi in Varanasi After All

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New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday ended the prospect of a clash between Narendra Modi and Priyanka Gandhi when it announced Ajay Rai as its Varanasi candidate. For the last several weeks, speculation had been rife that Priyanka, newly christened as the party’s general secretary in-charge of eastern UP, would take on Modi in the 3,000-year-old city – where he won by a margin of over two lakh votes in 2014.

During the course of the campaign, Priyanka had indicated several times that she might be keen to contest from Varanasi. A week ago, Congress president and Priyanka’s brother, Rahul Gandhi had fueled speculation when he responded to questions about Priyanka’s nomination: “I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing.”

Congress has not put its faith in Ajay Rai, who contested against Modi in the last general election and stood third after Arvind Kejriwal. Rai, a former member of the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, is a five-time MLA but lost the 2017 assembly elections from Pindra.

Modi holds mega roadshow

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi held a major roadshow in Varanasi flanked by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath and other senior BJP leaders including Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and alliance partners Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar. The seven-kilometre road show went through the Lanka and Assi areas of the city and culminated at the Dashashwamedh Ghat where Modi took part in the evening aarti.

Modi is expected to file his nomination on Friday. Varanasi will vote in the last phase of polling on May 19.

Earlier on Thursday, at a rally in Darbhanga, Modi justified the use of nationalism in the BJP’s election rhetoric by citing the terror strikes in Sri Lanka. “They question why does Modi talk about terrorism. They say it is not an issue. You tell me – aren’t national security and terrorism issues? They do not have an understanding that you have. More than 350 people were killed in an attack in Sri Lanka. Isn’t this an issue?” he said.

But, Modi also admitted that he cannot defeat terrorism all by himself. “But your chowkidar (Modi often refers to himself as chowkidar or security guard) cannot win this fight on his own. He must get your votes,” he said.

AAP releases manifesto

At the release of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) manifesto, national convenor Kejriwal said that if the ‘Modi-Shah duo’ come to power again in the country, “only (Rahul) Gandhi will be responsible”.

“Our unity is being challenged. The country can be saved only if we don’t get divided across religion and caste lines,” he said.

Despite several attempts, AAP and Congress failed to form an alliance for the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. Now, both parties will contest on all seven seats.

The party’s manifesto has full statehood for Delhi as one of its main appeals. “We will fight our battle on the issue of getting full statehood for Delhi. With statehood, we will get Delhi Police answerable to state chief minister,” Kejriwal said.

The party’s manifesto also promises that 85% of all Delhi government jobs will be reserved for those who live in Delhi. Along the same theme, AAP will also look to provide reservation in the Delhi University for students who clear their class XII from a school in Delhi.

Rahul Gandhi in Rajasthan

Rahul Gandhi spent the day addressing three rallies in Rajasthan where the party returned to power after the 2018 assembly elections, and would be hoping to build on that performance.

He said that Congress, if voted to power, will simplify the Goods and Services Tax (GST). “Gabbar Singh Tax and Demonetisation destroyed crores of jobs causing tremendous pain and badly damaging our economy. The Congress Party is committed to GST 2.0 – a single GST, with simple reporting,” he said.

His sister, Priyanka, held a roadshow in UP’s Bundelkhand region. “The Modi government is ignoring the poor, farmers and women. It is bothered only about the power,” she said at the roadshow in Jhansi.

She reminded voters of the promises made by the BJP before the 2014 elections. “What have you done in the past five years? What has happened to the promises made five years ago? Elect a government, a leader who is your hamdard (sympathiser),” she said.

Follow The Wire’s complete coverage of the 2019 elections here.