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Sonia to vacate Amethi for Rahul Gandhi

March 21, 2004 18:44 IST
Last Updated: March 21, 2004 20:59 IST

Ending months of speculation, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul Gandhi will enter the electoral fray from Amethi, a seat once head by his father former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

At present, the seat is held by Sonia Gandhi who will shift to the adjacent Rae Bareli constituency, once held by her mother-in-law former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Their names figure in the third list of 31 candidates spread over six states released by party general secretary Ambika Soni in Delhi on Sunday evening.

Asked about Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra's entry into the electoral fray, Soni said, "It would be announced at an appropriate time."

Amethi and Rae Bareli have been traditional strongholds of the Gandhi family with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi representing the two constituencies several times. In the last Lok Sabha, Rae Bareli seat had been held by Captain Satish Sharma who is considered close to the Gandhi family.

There has been intense speculation in recent times about the entry of Gandhi's children - Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi - into the election fray. Both have campaigned for the party in previous elections and had been scheduled to do so this time too. Sonia Gandhi had so far been maintaining that it was for Rahul and Priyanka to decide whether they want to take a plunge into politics.

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Priyanka had been visiting Amethi and nurturing the constituency for her mother. She is believed to be the more popular of the two.

Rahul worked in the United Kingdom for some time before quitting to come down to India. An indication of Rahul Gandhi contesting from Amethi was first given by Priyanka Vadra, when the two siblings had visited the constituency recently. Priyanka had told the people that henceforth Rahul would be looking after the constituency.

The siblings have been touring Uttar Pradesh to revive the Congress in the state and counter the Bharatiya Janata Party's 'India Shining' campaign. Incidentally, they were in the news recently when they watched the first one-day international match between India and Pakistan in Karachi.

The entry of Rahul into active politics has come at a time when the BJP has stepped up pressure on the issue of Sonia's foreign origin. Rahul's candidature was announced a day after BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu said the National Democratic Alliance, if returned to power, would enact a law barring people of foreign origin from holding high constitutional posts.

In 1999, Sonia Gandhi had contested from Bellary in Karnataka and Amethi but later gave up Bellary where she had defeated Union Minister Sushma Swaraj by over 50,000 votes. She had won Amethi too by a massive margin.

Other names in the list are those of AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik, secretary Ramesh Chennithala, former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay, former Union ministers Suresh Kalmadi, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, Balram Jhakhar, Mumbai Congress chief Gurudas Kamat and senior party leader Murali Deora's son Milind.

Wasnik would contest from Buldhana (SC), Kalmadi from Pune, Antulay from Kolaba, Patil from Kopargaon, Deora from Mumbai South, Kamath from Mumbai North West (all in Maharashtra), Jhakhar from Churu in Rajasthan. Jhakhar had earlier represented the Sikar Lok Sabha constituency, also in Rajasthan.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the party has nominated former PCC president Ghulam Rasool Kar (Baramulla), Chaudhary Lal Singh (Udhampur) and Mohan Lal Sharma (Jammu).  The last two are ministers in the PDP-led government in the state.

Meanwhile, popular Hindi film actor Govinda on Sunday joined the Congress after meeting Sonia Gandhi at her residence in Delhi along with senior party leaders Kamal Nath and Subbirami Reddy.

Govinda dismissed as mere speculation allegations that actors were being paid money to campaign for various political parties.

Govinda's earlier meeting with Gandhi on March 15 had fuelled speculation that he might contest against Petroleum Minister Ram Naik in the Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency.

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