April 16, 2024

Gandhi, the leading figure in an opposition alliance fighting an uphill battle against Modi, will contest from Wayanad in the southern state.

Thousands of supporters thronged India’s most prominent opposition leader Rahul Gandhi during a campaign procession before his formal nomination for the parliamentary election starting this month.

Gandhi, 53, is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of former prime ministers, but his Congress party has already suffered two landslide defeats against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

He is the leading figure in an opposition alliance fighting an uphill battle in this year’s polls against Modi, who remains broadly popular after a decade in power and is likely to retain office comfortably.

But Gandhi was given a rousing reception in Wayanad, a picturesque town in the southern state of Kerala, with a huge crowd gathering to cheer his arrival on Wednesday.

“I don’t think of you as my electorate but as my family,” he told the gathering from atop a truck, flanked by his younger sister Priyanka and cadres from his party.

Gandhi formally filed his nomination, vying to retain the Wayanad seat, with the local election office after the rally.

He was first elected from the constituency in 2019 but was briefly disqualified from parliament last year after his conviction for criminal libel in a case filed by a member of the BJP.

He was reinstated pending a Supreme Court appeal, but his decision to recontest the seat has caused some friction within the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), of which Congress is a part.

His main challenger is firebrand left-wing candidate Annie Raja of the Communist Party of India, a fellow member of the INDIA bloc. Her allies have criticised Gandhi for not choosing to fight in another seat against an established candidate from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The entire country should discuss the inappropriateness of this,” Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, a member of Raja’s party, told reporters on Tuesday.

In the 2019 general election, Gandhi lost his formerly safe seat of Amethi in the northern Uttar Pradesh state to the then-rising BJP star, Smriti Irani. He blamed the defeat on the BJP using “the entire machinery of the Indian state” against the opposition.

Starting April 19, nearly a billion Indians will vote to elect a new government in the seven-phase election. The votes will be counted on June 4.

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