Narendra Modi could be in for a tough fight in Varanasi with the Congress declaring its resolve to put up a formidable candidate against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s PM nominee in the Lok Sabha polls and ruling out support to the Aaam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal.
Congress leadership has already shortlisted three candidates for Varanasi to take on Modi and the final choice will be announced soon. "1There are many names under consideration for Varanasi seat. The Congress will field a strong candidate and we will fight with full strength," party spokesman and Union Minister Anand Sharma told mediapersons.
To a question as to why the Congress is not announcing its candidate and whether it could support Kejriwal's candidature, Sharma said, "Is there any dearth of candidates? It will be declared in the party list in time. The question does not arise (of supporting Kejriwal). The Congress will fight the battle on its own strength. Congress is a national party and will fight on the ground."
A senior party leader said on the condition of anonymity that the party will put up "strong" candidates against Modi in both Varanasi and the Gujarat seat from which he would be contesting. On Tuesday, the All India Congress Committee had urged all like minded parties to support its nominee in Varanasi in the "battle against communalism".
"Do not be surprised if Varanasi witnesses a similar spectacle as Ghaziabad from where BJP chief Rajnath Singh ran away after Congress fielded Raj Babbar," party spokesman Randeep Surjewala had said.
The remarks of Surjewala came two days after party General Secretary Madhusudan Mistry had declared that the Congress will give a "good fight" to Modi on Varanasi seat and did not rule out fielding an 'outsider'.
Among the local candidates, the names of Rajesh Mishra and Ajay Rai are doing the rounds. A section in the Congress wants an influential leader pitched against Modi, while others want a celebrity to be fielded against him.
A section views that after the exit of BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi from the electoral contest from the holy city, the Congress fielding a Brahmin candidate could be advantageous.
Senior Congress leader Anil Shastri in a tweet had said "If the Bahujan Samaj Party & Samajwadi Party are serious on defeating Modi from Varanasi, they, along with the Congress should put up a joint candidate against him". AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has declared that he was ready to take on Modi in Varanasi but linked his final call to the people's approval there.
Taking a dig at the BJP, Sharma said the Congress does not anoint its PM candidate nine months in advance and does not believe in masquerading as head of the country even before the election results are out.
Dismissing contention of a Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi contest, he said that a number of Congress leaders were ready for a debate with the Gujarat chief minister on any issue and at any forum.
He also took a dig at senior BJP leader L K Advani planning to contest from Bhopal instead of Gandhinagar saying that it was now the turn of the party patriarch to be moved out after Murli Manohar Joshi was uprooted from his home turf of Varanasi.
On corruption issue, he said the BJP acted against its own chief ministers in Karnataka and Uttarakhand after much delay and is engaged in a smear campaign against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance for electoral gains. He said Congress is determined not only to fight elections but to expose Modi's and the BJP's "hypocrisy and politics of double speak".
"We can claim that we are different from so called party with a difference," he said. Sharma also agreed with Rahul’s contention that the party could have taken up more aggressively the issue of the BJP disrupting Parliament and not allowing key bills to pass.
"There was a systematic, orchestrated campaign to defame, malign and subvert the processes of the government. As this environment was building up, we should have stepped out and told people," he said.
The Union minister for commerce also said that "it is not correct to call everything a scam", when asked about reports that the Central Bureau of Investigation could file closure report in coal block allocation scam.
He also said that on mineral resources, the first right is of the states. "Proposals come to the Centre after the recommendations of the screening committee of states," he said.