Rai began his political career as a member of the ABVP, the BJP's student wing. He was elected to the Uttar Pradesh assembly as the BJP candidate from Kolasala three times in a row between 1996 and 2007.
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a large-hearted man who took everyone along, quite unlike Narendra Modi, says Congress’ Varanasi candidate and old BJP hand Ajay Rai. Rai, who takes on Varanasi MP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this Uttar Pradesh temple town, said the election this time is easier than in 2014.
“The election is relatively easier this time than last time as people have seen through Modiji’s tall and fake promises and he has not delivered anything,” Rai told PTI ahead of the election on Sunday.
The now Congress leader is full of appreciation for Vajpayee. “I was with the BJP. I was a minister also. It was the BJP of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was not the BJP of Modi and Amit Shah that runs on corporate culture and doesn’t respect its leaders,” Rai said. This new BJP didn’t respect old timers L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, he said.
Fondly remembering Vajpayee, Rai said he was a totally different leader and described him as “large hearted man who used to take everybody along”. Rai began his political career as a member of the ABVP, the BJP’s student wing. He was elected to the Uttar Pradesh assembly as the BJP candidate from Kolasala three times in a row between 1996 and 2007.
After being denied a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP in 2009, he switched to the Samajwadi Party and later joined the Congress. In 2014, he contested the parliamentary election from this constituency but managed to get only 75,000 votes and finished third, behind Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, forfeiting his deposit.
The BJP wants to double Modi’s victory margin — in 2014 he won by 3.37 lakh votes against Kejriwal. This time, Rai is Modi’s main rival and is hoping for a consolidation of Muslim votes behind him. Rai, who hails from the Bhumihar community and has a considerable following among Brahmins, is also eyeing votes from the two communities which have a sizeable presence in the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency.
Both Brahmins and Bhumihars have traditionally been supporters of the BJP. His manifesto focuses on the reestablishment of temples broken during Varanasi corridor, and promises setting up an All India Institute of Medical Sciences and starting a metro service in the town.