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Flanked by Sonia, Priyanka, Cong top guns; Rahul lands in UP ahead of filing nomination from Raebareli

New Delhi: After the Congress ended weeks of suspense around its choice of candidates from Raebareli and Amethi Lok Sabha constituencies, naming Rahul Gandhi and KL Sharma as its picks from the traditional strongholds; the Wayanad MP, along with his mother Sonia Gandhi and several Congress heavyweights, arrived at party's mini-pocket borough on the last day for filing nominations for the fifth phase of the general elections on Friday.
A chartered flight with Rahul, his mother and several Congress top tuns landed at the Fursatgunj airfield ahead of his nomination filing from Raebareli. The Wayanad MP was flanked by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, KC Venugopal, Robert Vadra, former Rajasthan chief minister and AICC member Ashok Gehlot, as he arrived at the airstrip.
Rahul and Sonia, the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party who resigned as the sitting Raebareli MP earlier and was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha from Jaipur, were pictured leaving the latter's Delhi residence after the Congress formally announced its picks for its two UP strongholds earlier in the day.
According to party sources, Rahul will hold an elaborate roadshow in Raebareli before filing his nomination papers at noon. Ahead of his arrival at the Congress stronghold, hectic preparations were underway at the party office in Raebareli to accord him a rousing reception.
Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge and Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy also left for Raebareli on a special flight from Hyderabad's Begumpet airport ahead of Rahul's nomination filing.
A video clip showed the Congress' Raebareli office being bedecked with petals ahead of Rahul's arrival.
Rahul is pitted against Congress defector and three-time MLC Dinesh Pratap Singh in Raebareli. A sitting MP from Kerala's Wayanad, he is also seeking a fresh term in the Lower House from the seat that polled in Phase 2 of the general elections on April 26.
Before Sonia, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had won Raebareli thrice. The constituency also elected Indira's husband and Congress leader Feroze Gandhi twice in 1952 and 1957.
The BJP, meanwhile, took a dig at Rahul's candidature from two seats, saying he was "running away from Wayanad" after "accepting defeat in Amethi."
"Rahul Gandhi is losing Wayanad, which is why he is going to file nomination from Raebareli. He ran away to Wayanad after losing Amethi earlier (in the 2019 elections). Such is the state of affairs in the Congress these days that no one wants to contest Amethi, which had been one of their traditional strongholds. He will also have to run away from Raebareli just as did from Amethi, as the people will give him a befitting reply. He will lose Raebareli as well," BJP national secretary Manjinder Singh Sirsa told ANI on Friday.
In 2019, he contested both Wayanad and Amethi, losing the latter to Union Minister Smriti Irani.
Rahul represented Amethi in the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2019. His father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, too, was an elected member of Amethi in the Lower House from 1981 till his death in 1991. Sonia Gandhi contested elections from here in 1999 before passing the baton on to Rahul in 2004.
This time, however, the Congress named party loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma from Amethi against incumbent MP Irani. Irani had earlier filed her nomination as an NDA candidate.
Congress party members expressed happiness over KL Sharma's candidature from Amethi.
"There is no shortage of enthusiasm. KL Sharma has stood with the people here in their time of need over the 30-35 years. He has helped out people regardless of their political affiliation," Raghav Ram Mishra, a Congress worker, said.
Shubham Singh, another Congress worker, said, "We stand in support of the decision taken by 'Didi' (Priyanka) and 'Bhaiya' (Rahul) to not contest Amethi. We are always ready to obey the high command's decision. There were expectations that either of them would contest Amethi but we will try to convince the people and try to rally support for our candidate."
UP Congress President Ajay Rai expressed confidence in the INDIA bloc forming the government, adding that Rahul's candidature from Raebareli would "impact the results".
"It was our demand for a long time that Rahul Gandhi contest from Uttar Pradesh. We are happy that Rahul Gandhi has been named our candidate from Raebareli and KL Sharma from Amethi. They have been among the people, serving them selflessly. This (Rahul Gandhi's candidature) would turn the poll results in the state upside down. It is clear that INDIA will form the next government at the Centre. Rahul is a fighter and he won't back off," Rai said.
Both constituencies are traditional strongholds of the Gandhi-Nehru family, with its members holding these seats for decades. Rahul's defeat in Amethi, once considered a Congress 'pocket borough' at the hands of Irani in the 2019 polls was seen as a significant blow to the party's national prestige.
The Congress is contesting 17 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh as part of the seat-sharing deal with its ally partner, Samajwadi Party (SP). 

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