Rahul Gandhi with supporters
Rahul Gandhi with supporters before filing his nomination papers from Wayanad constituency, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, in Wayanad, Thursday, April 04, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Rahul Gandhi, Congress president, has made a smart political move by contesting from Wayanad in Kerala besides his traditional seat Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

He decided to contest Wayanad despite the BJP jeering and saying Gandhi has run away from his “TV star” opponent Smriti Irani, who these days, spends all her time trolling Gandhi.

Gandhi has always polled ahead of Modi in the south. Wayanad is a tri-junction constituency, bordering three southern states, which are expected to have a “Rahul ripple effect”.

The Congress is a serious contender in Kerala and now with Gandhi in the fray, it is expected to do extremely well in the 20 Kerala Lok Sabha seats.

The Left has reacted with outrage and a sense of betrayal, saying they will go all out to defeat Gandhi. But it’s not really a job of one party to prop up another. Gandhi is trying the southern gambit to help his party increase its seat tally and overcome the existential crisis the Congress faces.

Gandhi tried to reach out to the Left when he filed his nomination accompanied by his sister Priyanka, who is now a general secretary of the party.

Gandhi said he would not utter a word against the Left but would keep treating them as allies. Gandhi said: “I understand that they will want to attack me but, I won’t.”

Wayanad seemed to be charmed by the Gandhi siblings as they provided help to a local journalist who was injured. This is the second time Gandhi has come to the aid of an injured journalist, leading one Congress leader present to quip: “See how Modi treats the media and see how we treat them. Will journalists vote for us?”

The southern punt is not just a meaningless move, but has plenty of method behind the madness. Gandhi for a long time has been mulling an outreach to the south because except for Karnataka, the BJP has been unable to make any dent in the south. Even the Sabarimala temple being opened to all women and the BJP’s cultivation of the outrage has not yielded much electoral benefit for the party.

Gandhi said he felt the south of India is feeling isolated, with the central government seemingly attacking their culture and way of being. The south, which is much more developed than the north, has reason to feel penalised by the allocation of resources which is based on numbers. Population growth has been checked for years in the south and all human development indices are better and yet it suffers in resource allocation.

Gandhi, with his move, has touched a receptive chord. Senior Congress leaders say Gandhi has always believed in cultivating an all-India leadership to distinguish the Congress from the BJP, which is still perceived as an upper caste north Indian party.

While some leaders of the Congress believe that 2019 will be all about who can cobble up alliances as regional parties are expected to play kingmaker, Gandhi’s core team says they are in it for the long run — to earn back the Congress’ political space and Congress workers their pride.

This is Gandhi’s strategy: that while the Congress will be happy to support any anti-Modi front, it will not keep ceding the Congress vote share as has happened in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi calls Amethi his “karmabhoomi” (sacred work place), but the work has made him realise that the Congress is nearly extinct in Uttar Pradesh.

Both the Gandhi siblings believe that they have to get back Uttar Pradesh if they are in politics for the long haul. With a vote share of around seven per cent to nine per cent it will be a hard task. And the regional parties do not want to give any quarter with the Congress being expected to sacrifice for Opposition unity.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra look on as an injured media worker
Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra look on as an injured media worker is stretchered away after a barricade collapsed during Rahul's visit to file his candidacy nomination in Wayanad, Kerala. Image Credit: AFP

While on the surface Gandhi appears to be extremely cordial, his recent decisions show that he is quite capable of playing hardball even with the Opposition. As a senior leader points out that Wayanad was a Congress seat so the Left outrage is disproportionate.

Political junkies are already saying Gandhi may opt to retain Wayanad if he wins and let his sister contest Amethi.

So a Gandhi in the south and one in Uttar Pradesh. Makes for interesting optics and political possibilities.