New Delhi: Putting all rumours to rest, the Congress on Thursday declared Ajay Rai as its candidate from Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BSP-SP-RLD’s Shalini Yadav.

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For long there was speculation that Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be pitted against the Prime Minister in her maiden electoral fight. A few days ago while speaking to news agency ANI, Priyanka had also said that she is willing to contest from Varanasi if the Congress president asks her to.

A five-time MLA from Uttar Pradesh, Ajay Rai also contested the 2014 elections and came a distant third by polling 75,614 votes as opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won by polling 5,81,022 as against the first runner-up Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, who got 2,09,238 votes.

Ahead of the 2014 elections, Ajay Rai was quoted saying, “I think Modi has been an MLA for three terms while I have been an MLA for five straight terms, including a byelection. This way, I am in fact senior to Modi by two terms when it comes to electoral politics.”

Rai started his political career with the BJP youth wing and had a decade-long association with the party before joining the Samajwadi Party. He then left SP to contest the Kolasla byelection as an independent and won. After the Kolasla constituency ceased to exist, in 2012, Rai won from the new Pindra constituency. In 2017, Ajay Rai contested the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections as a Congress candidate from Pindra but lost.

The Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency had recorded a 44.8 per cent voter turnout in 2014 elections. This election, Varanasi votes on May 19 and the result will be declared for all seven phases cumulatively on May 23.