Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi filed his papers on Thursday to run for parliament from a southern constituency, aiming to strengthen his Congress partys prospects in a region where the ruling Hindu nationalists have a limited presence.
Although surveys show Congress is trailing Prime Minister Narendra Modis Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the elections that begin next Thursday, the race is tightening.
Gandhi, the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for much of its history since independence from Britain in 1947, picked Wayanad in Kerala as his second constituency, in addition to the family borough in the north.
“I am here to send a message that south India is important,” he told reporters as thousands of party members lined the streets of the small town in welcome.
Modis BJP has its core base of voters in Indias north and west, playing second fiddle to regional parties across the south, except for Karnataka, home to the technology hub of Bangalore.
But the party has been trying build its presence in the region, especially Kerala, where the Congress and a communist party are the main players, and where Gandhi is looking to galvanize party workers through his candidacy.
Accompanied by sister Priyanka
He was accompanied by his sister, the charismatic Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who plunged into active politics in January in another move Congress hopes will add momentum to its campaign.
Gandhi said his candidacy emphasized the unity of India and contrasted with the Hindu-first vision of the nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that Modi was tied to.
“There is a feeling in south India that the way the government, RSS and Narendra Modi are working… many people in the country feel that their culture, language and history are under attack,” he added.
Kerala has a significant population of Muslims and Christians in a predominantly Hindu India. Muslims form nearly 27 percent of the states population of about 33.4 million, and Christians roughly 18 percent, census figures show.
Congress has accused Modi and aligned right wing groups of pursuing a partisan agenda of attacking Muslims and changing school textbooks in efforts to shape the national identity to reflect their view, that India is a nation of, and for, Hindus.
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