Rahul in Wayanad- Advantage Congress but will it reverse its fortunes?

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The picturesque district of Wayanad has attracted the attention of political pundits and media ever since the announcement that Congress President Rahul Gandhi will contest from the place in addition to his traditional stronghold of Amethi.

National interest in the constituency shot up after the announcement made by senior Congress leader and former Defence Minister AK Antony.

This is also for the first time that Rahul Gandhi, who has been representing Amethi since 2004, will be contesting from a second seat.

The Congress scion will arrive in Kerala today along with his sister and general secretary of AICC, Priyanka Gandhi to submit his nomination papers.

However, the question that is on everyone’s mind is whether the decision will prove to be a game changer for the Congress party, or simply irk a potential ally in the Left Front.

WAYANAD- POLITICAL DEMOGRAPHICS

As a district, Wayanad was carved out of the hilly areas of Kozhikode and Malappuram districts on November 1, 1980 as Kerala’s 12th.

As a constituency, the Wayanad parliamentary constituency has been considered the sure seat for the Congress in the south since its formation in 2009.

The constituency comprises of Mananthavady, Sulthan Bathery, Kalpetta, Thiruvambady, Ernad, Nilambur and Wandoor.

Its candidate MI Shahnawaz won from the constituency in both 2009 and 2014 general elections. He passed away last year.

This time, Left Democratic Front (LDF) has fielded CPI candidate PP Suneer whereas the BJP has fielded Thushar Vellappally, son of SNDP chief Vellappalli Nateshan, to take up the fight.

With 50% Hindu population, over 29% Muslims and 21% Christian population, Wayanad is considered the most assured seat for Congress in South.

Wayanad district also has the most number of SC and ST community members in the state.

Over 35% of the Hindus in the state belong to SC communities while around 7% belong to ST communities.

Rahul Gandhi, who has been championing the cause of SC/ST rights, could find huge support among these communities.

However, it is the numbers of 2014 general elections that adds a touch of uncertainty to this otherwise ‘safe’ seat for the Congress. The party, which won the seat by over 1.5 lakh votes in 2009, secured victory by a mere margin of 20,000 votes in 2014.

SOUTHERN SHIFT?

Even though opponents portray the move by Rahul Gandhi as a reaction to the relentless advances made by BJP’s Smriti Irani in Amethi, the Congress has tried to portray it as an attempt to consolidate its electoral base in South India, especially Kerala which as 20 Lok Sabha seats.

The party argues that Rahul’s campaign in Wayanad will help him reach out to the other two southern states Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well.

At least some political experts also say Rahul Gandhi’s selection of Wayanad constituency, a strategically important trijunction in Kerala which shares borders with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, will help the Congress to consolidate its position in the south.

However, rivals and potential allies are unwilling to buy that explanation. There has been mixed reactions from the political arena since the announcement. While the Congress called it a ‘masterstroke’, BJP President Amit Shah expectedly lashed out at Rahul and said that he has fled to Kerala fearing defeat in Amethi.

Meanwhile the CPM criticised the Congress and said that Rahul’s contest is nothing but a fight against the Left and not against BJP.

“What BJP has he come to defeat in Wayanad,” asked Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan soon after the news was confirmed.

Another question that may occupy the minds of the locals is whether Rahul Gandhi, a potential PM candidate, can bring changes in the district. As a hill district, Wayanad has one of the lowest per capita incomes, lowest literacy rates, poorest infrastructure and medical facilities.

There area suffers from a lack of schools, hospitals and even water and electricity in some parts.

It is still struggling to recover from the devastating floods last year,, which damaged the roads, houses and farmlands badly. Farmers are facing massive debts due to crop loss, even as district’s agricultural performance has deteriorated over the past decade.

On a positive note, Congress workers have received a significant boost since the announcement, and are leaving no stone unturned for launching Rahul’s political career in the South.

On the other hand, if Rahul Gandhi wins from both the seats, he is likely to resign from Wayanad as Amethi is his ‘karmabhoomi’.

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