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NEW DELHI: Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi will contest the general election from the family bastion in the north, his Congress party announced on Friday, a move that will challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a region he dominates.

Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, will contest against Raebareli in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the Congress said, besides Wayanad in southern Kerala state, which has already voted. India allows candidates to contest multiple constituencies, but they can only represent one.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and elects 80 legislators to the lower house, the most of any state. In the last elections in 2019, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and allies won 64 seats, including from Amethi, bordering Raebareli, where Gandhi was defeated.
His return to the area, albeit for a second constituency, will give the party a boost, Congress officials said.
Gandhi said Raebareli’s nomination was an “emotional moment” for him.
“My mother entrusted me with the responsibility… with great trust and gave me the opportunity to fulfill it,” he wrote on X.
“In the ongoing struggle for justice and against injustice, I seek the love and blessings of my loved ones. I am confident that you all stand with me in this fight to save the Constitution and democracy,” he said.
Gandhi’s mother Sonia won in 2019 against Raebareli, who has returned as a Congress candidate in 17 of the 20 elections held there since 1952, mostly members of the Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi is now a member of the Upper House of Parliament.
Modi is widely expected to win a rare third term in the general election that started on April 19 and ends on June 1, with votes to be counted on June 4.
However, analysts said low voter turnout in the first two phases of the seven-phase elections had dampened hopes of a big majority for the party, though they said the BJP was likely to still retain power in the most populated country in the world.
Soon after the announcement, Gandhi flew to Raebareli in a private plane, accompanied by his mother Sonia, sister Priyanka and senior Congress leaders, and filed his nomination papers.
Modi and the BJP attacked Gandhi for the decision.
“I had said that the prince will lose in Wayanad and fearing his loss… he will look for another seat,” Modi said on Friday, referring to Gandhi.
“I would also like to tell them from the bottom of my heart: don’t be afraid, don’t run away,” Modi said.
The Congress has ruled India for 54 of the 76 years since independence from Britain, and members of the Nehru-Gandhi family were prime ministers for more than 37 of those 54 years.
However, the party has floundered since being swept from power by Modi in 2014 and has struggled to revive itself.
Gandhi’s fight from Raebareli is good news for the 27-party opposition INDIA alliance that Congress leads, said Rasheed Kidwai, political analyst and visiting researcher at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
“The importance of Rahul’s fight here is that it will strengthen the alliance with the Samajwadi Party,” Kidwai said, referring to Congress’s regional partner in Uttar Pradesh. “The opposition’s story is not that bad and this will force a battle with the BJP.”