New Delhi/Lucknow: The Congress on Tuesday announced Ajay Rai as its Lok Sabha candidate from Varanasi against BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.
Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi. File pic
The announcement was made by Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala at the party's official briefing in New Delhi.
Surjewala said the party decided to field a person who had worked at the grassroots level in Varanasi. "Ajay Rai's name was finalised after discussions in the party."
He said Varanasi will not only be a battle between political parties but also between "ideologies".
"It will be a contest between those who break and those who make, those who divide and those who join, those who want to take the country backwards and those who want to empower it," Surjewala said.
Stating that the Congress represents the forces of unity, the spokesperson sought support for Rai. "We appeal to all that they should support the Congress and its candidate," he said.
The Congress had earlier said it will field a strong candidate against Modi in Varanasi.
Sources said the party deliberated on several names including that of party general secretary Digvijaya Singh as possible candidates.
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and former parliamentarian Raashid Alvi were among those who had volunteered to contest against Modi from Varanasi.
Party sources said Rai, a Congress legislator from Pindra in Varanasi, had the wherewithal to take on Modi in Varanasi.
Rai started his political career in 1993 and was BJP legislator in 1996, 2002 and 2007. He left the party in 2010 after being denied a ticket for the 2009 polls.
A number of criminal cases are registered against him.
Sources said the party felt that a local candidate was best placed to challenge Modi. However, party leaders admit in private that the fight by the Congress would now be "only token and symbolic".
Modi is also contesting from Vadodara in Gujarat where the Congress has fielded party general secretary Madhusudan Mistry.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has already announced his candidature against Modi.
Varanasi goes to the polls May 12, the last day of polling for the ten-phase Lok Sabha election.