In an unprecedented move, Congress fielded Ajay Rai as its candidate to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency in the 2019 General Elections. Ajay Rai, a local stronghold from the holy city, is a five-time MLA.
This is the second time Rahul Gandhi-led party has pitted Ajay Rai against PM Modi from Varanasi. Earlier in 2014, PM Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, had defeated Ajay Rai with a record number of 3.37 lakh votes. Notably, AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal also contested the elections from Varanasi in 2014, but was defeated by the Prime Minister.
Notably, Rai had been a member of both the BJP and Samajwadi Party before he finally joined the Congress party. While he started his political journey as a BJP's student's wing leader after which he defeated a nine-time MLA from the Kolasla seat in 1996, he then he resigned as an MLA in 2009, after BJP refused to give him a ticket for contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi.
He then joined Samajwadi Party, and contested the General Elections against Murli Manohar Joshi, who was BJP's candidate from Varanasi.
In 2012 Assembly elections, he from the new Pindra constituency on Congress ticket, following which he became the party's candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi. However, he lost massively finishing at third with only 75,000 votes, while PM Modi won over 3 lakh votes.
Now, in the mammoth competition against the Prime Minister, the Congress party has put its bet on Ajay Rai, who is popular among people on a grassroot level.
In 2014 Parliamentary elections, Narendra Modi had gone up against Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, securing 5.8 lakh votes versus Kejriwal's 2.1 lakh votes in Varanasi. Congress candidate Ajay Rai had only managed 75 thousand votes, while the BSP candidate got 60 thousand votes and the SP candidate got 45 thousand votes.
Moreover, the Prime Minister contested from two seats - Varanasi and Vadodara in 2014. He had won the Vadodara election by a massive margin over the second-placed Congress candidate, securing almost 8.5 lakh votes versus the 2.75 lakh votes of INC's Madhusudan Mistry. The third-placed candidate - Sunil Digambar Kulkarni of the Aam Aadmi Party - secured just 10 thousand votes. Narendra Modi's winning margin in Vadodara was the second-highest ever in the Lok Sabha polls, behind only Anil Basu of the CPI(M) who won the Arambagh seat in West Bengal by about 5.9 lakh votes in 2004.