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Deciding against fielding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi, the Congress today (Thursday, April 25) announced Ajay Rai as its candidate from the constituency once again.

Rai, the Congress candidate from the seat in 2014 elections too, is a former MLA from Pindra that falls under the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. In 2014 elections, Rai came third after Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal and secured only 75,614 votes.

The SP-BSP-RLD ‘Mahagathbandhan’ candidate from Varanasi is Shalini Yadav, the daughter-in-law of late Shyamlal Yadav, former Congress MP from Varanasi and Union minister.

Modi is expected to file his nomination papers from the seat on Friday.

Varanasi votes on May 19 in the last phase of the polls. The results will be declared on May 23.

There was much speculation about Priyanka taking on Modi, especially after her reply to a journalist who asked her if she would contest from Rae Bareli. Priyanka had said “Why not from Varanasi?”

Priyanka had expressed her willingness to contest from the seat and maintained if the Congress wanted her to contest from Varanasi, she would consider it. Recently, she had said if her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked her to contest from Varanasi, she would be happy to do it.

“Why not? Sanghatan ka bohat kaam hai (there is a lot of work to be done for the party). But, if the party asks I will do what they decide,” she said, responding to queries from reporters in Amethi on March 27 over whether she would contest the elections.

“If my party wants me to contest polls, I will definitely contest. My wish is to work for the party,” she had said.

Priyanka was appointed the Congress general secretary for Uttar Pradesh (east) in January. Her launch was aimed at mobilising the party in a crucial state like Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 MPs to the Parliament.

Apart from Rai, the Congress’s Central Election Committee announced Madhusudan Tiwari as the candidate from Gorakhpur.

Rai, a five-time MLA, belongs to the Bhumihar community and is supposed to have considerable following among Brahmins and Bhumihars.

Rai began his political career in the BJP’s student wing and was elected to the UP Assembly from the Kolasla constituency three times in a row between 1996 and 2007 on a BJP ticket.

After being denied a ticket by the party for the 2007 state polls, he joined the Samajwadi Party and fought the 2009 Lok Sabha elections; he came third behind BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari.

The same year, he contested the by-polls from the Kolasla constituency as an Independent and won.

After the delimitation of this constituency, Rai won the 2012 Assembly elections from Pindra constituency, which falls in the Varanasi district, on a Congress ticket. In the subsequent 2017 state polls, he lost the seat to BJP’s Avadhesh Singh.

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