The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee is keen to field senior leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from Varanasi and will soon send a proposal in this regard to the top leadership, said newly appointed party's state president Ajay Rai on Sunday.
Rai has lost three Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi -- as a Congress candidate in 2014 and 2019 to Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- and as a Samajwadi Party candidate to Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi in 2009.
"We want Priyanka Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi. For this, we will soon send a proposal to the party leadership," Rai, who recently took over as the state Congress president, told PTI.
"Priyanka Gandhi can contest from any seat she wants and we will make her win the elections with all our might, but we wish that she contests from Varanasi," he added.
Varanasi is the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi was elected from Varanasi for the second consecutive time in 2019 and there is a strong possibility of him contesting from the same seat in 2024 as well.
Asked what message the Congress wants to send by wanting to pit Priyanka Gandhi against Modi, Rai said, "The only message it is trying to send is that there is someone standing strong against him (Modi)."
The Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency has been a BJP stronghold since 1991, with the Congress winning it only once in 2004.
The seat remained with the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections of 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999, and also in the mid-term elections.
Rajesh Kumar Mishra of the Congress was elected from the seat in 2004, but BJP won back the constituency in 2009.
Varanasi, located in Purvanchal, has a wide influence over the region expanding across eastern Uttar Pradesh up to western Bihar.
Rai (53) was pitted against Modi in the 2014 and 2019 polls as the Congress candidate from Varanasi and got 75,614 votes and 1,52,548 votes.
The new state Congress chief had contested from the same seat on a Samajwadi Party ticket in 2009 and got 1,23,874 votes. Rai, who is seen as a 'bahubali' (strongman) leader, is a five-time MLA.
Talking about the possibility of former party president Rahul Gandhi contesting from Amethi, Rai said, "The people of Amethi are demanding that Rahul ji contest from this seat. The public is angered by the unfulfilled promises and working style of BJP MP Smriti Irani and they now want Rahul Gandhi again."
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had contested the 2019 general elections from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and Wayanad in Kerala. He lost Amethi to BJP leader Smriti Irani.
Rai said the opposition should contest the next Lok Sabha polls under the Congress' leadership in Uttar Pradesh too as in the national level elections.
He said people would look for an alternative to the BJP, which is certainly the Congress.
"See this is a national-level election. At this stage people will look for an alternative to the BJP, which is naturally the Congress," said Rai when asked what shape the INDIA bloc will take in Uttar Pradesh and whether the Lok Sabha elections will be fought under the leadership of the main opposition Samajwadi Party.
"Therefore, I am sure the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh will also be fought under the leadership of the Congress. However, the final decision in this regard will be taken by the central leadership," he added.
Refusing that there has been a decline of attention of the Congress' top leadership in Uttar Pradesh, Rai said this is the most important state from the political point of view and has always been their priority.
He added that Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and former party chief Sonia Gandhi would soon become more active in the state.
When asked about the challenges the Congress will face if the politics of caste equations dominates in Uttar Pradesh, Rai said, "The Congress has never done politics of caste or religion. It has always played the politics of issues. In the next Lok Sabha elections, we will go among the people on basic issues like unemployment, price rise and corruption."
The Congress leader claimed the communal politics in the country is now slowly losing its effect and the people are troubled by the rising inflation and unemployment.
The BJP is nervous about this and the statements of its top leadership show its trepidation, he said.
When asked about the major challenges that he is facing as the state Congress president, Rai said, "Some loopholes had cropped up in the party organisation in recent years, but they will now be completely rectified and young as well as senior leaders will be brought in. By taking them along, the Congress will work hard in the elections."
The Congress has been away from power in Uttar Pradesh for more than three decades. The party won its last election in the state in 1985.
It has just one member in Lok Sabha (Rae Bareli MP Sonia Gandhi) from the politically crucial state that sends 80 MPs to the 543-member Lower House of Parliament.
In the state assembly elections held last year, the Congress registered its worst performance as the party was reduced to just two seats.