The very first list of candidates that the Congress announced had the name of party President Rahul Gandhi as the candidate from Amethi. But days later, the Congress has decided that Rahul Gandhi will contest from one more seat - far away from Amethi - the safe seat of Wayanad in Kerala. The Congress believes that Wayanad district that has been one of the most impacted in the devastating 2018 floods, will stand to gain if the Congress President is the candidate who wins from the seat.
However, this is a decision that the Left and others including the NCP have bitterly opposed. Many Left leaders, including Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan have openly said that Rahul Gandhi contesting against a Left candidate will signal that the secular front was not together. LDF's candidate from Wayanad is PP Suneer of the CPI.
But for the Congress, which faces an uphill task in Amethi where Rahul is up against Smriti Irani of the BJP, Wayanad is an easy choice because they believe winning here is a foregone conclusion. Three reasons for this confidence: the religious make-up of the region, the historic performance of the Congress and IUML in the constituency, and the fact that the faction ridden party will definitely come together in this segment.
Congress's foothold in Wayanad
The Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency was carved out in 2008 following the delimitation exercise. It comprises seven Assembly segments: three from Wayanad district, three from Malappuram district, and one from Kozhikode district. Traditionally, Congress and IUML have had a good hold on Malappuram and Wayanad districts, and the party believes that in the Wayanad seat, all Congress factions along with the IUML will work together to mke Rahul win.
In 2014 and 2009, MI Shanavas of the Congress won the seat, defeating the Communist Party of India (CPI). The seat has been vacant since Shanavas’s death in November 2018. Though Shanavas’s victory margin had reduced drastically between 2009 and 2014, the Congress still believes this is a safe seat for their leader. A political critic in Kerala told TNM, “In Amethi, they're not sure if Rahul will win. Wayanad therefore is a safe seat, compared to any other seat in south India, despite their margin decreasing. And when Rahul Gandhi himself is contesting, the Congress believe that there is no question of losing the fight. As far as Kerala is concerned, Wayanad is the lone safe seat."
Muslim population of Wayanad
Most of the Assembly segments in Wayanad constituency - especially Mananthavady, Sulthanbathery, and Kalpetta - have a large population of Muslims. Wayanad district has around 49% Hindus and 49% Muslims and Christians. The Congress hopes that the people in the segment will look at this as a national fight between the BJP and Congress, and pick Congress over LDF since Rahul is contesting from here.
The numbers game
For the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the total number of electors in Wayanad was 11,02,097. Shanavas got 410,703 votes, which was 49.86% of votes polled. He defeated M Rahmatullam of the CPI, who got 257,264 (31.23%).
Compared to 2009, Shanavas had a tough time winning the seat in 2014, scraping through with a little more than 20,000 votes over the second placed CPI candidate to become one of the 44 Congress MPs in the last Lok Sabha. In 2014, Shanavas got 377,035 votes or 30.18% of the votes polled compared to CPI's Sathyan Mokeri who got 356,165 votes or 28.51%.
However, that election saw the BJP placed third with its candidate PR Rasmilnath bagging 80,752 votes (6.46%). The BJP’s votes had gone up from the 3.85% - 31,687 votes - it had polled in 2009.
The Congress is confident that Rahul Gandhi’s star value will draw in votes and give him a smooth victory.
The Amethi challenge
In the high-profile constituency of Amethi, Rahul Gandhi will take on Union Minister Smriti Irani again. In the 2014 polls, Rahul Gandhi had defeated Smriti Irani by a margin of over one lakh votes. However, his victory was far less impressive than in most earlier Lok Sabha elections in Amethi.
The Congress's vote share was reduced to 46% in 2014 as against its earlier shares of 71% and 66% in the 2009 and 2004 elections, respectively. The BJP, whose vote share in Amethi remained in the single digits in 2004, garnered 37% of the votes cast in 2014.
The seat has long been a stronghold of the Congress, which hasn't been defeated here in the last three decades barring 1998, when the BJP's Sanjay Singh defeated Satish Sharma of the Congress by a margin of 23,270 votes. Amethi was regained by the Congress in 1999 when Sonia Gandhi was elected as MP from there.
However, the results of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections held in 2017 became a cause of worry for the Congress. The BJP managed to win four of the five Assembly seats which fell under the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency.
Though she lost to Rahul Gandhi, since then, Smriti Irani has visited Amethi several times and has held rallies and public gatherings on ground, where she targeted Congress President over various issues.