//Sonia stumps critics with resounding victory

Sonia stumps critics with resounding victory

SUBHASHIS MITTRA, RAE BARELI, MAY 11 (PTI)

Congress President Sonia Gandhi today won the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha bye-election by a huge margin of over 4.17 lakh votes, trouncing rivals belonging to the Samajwadi Party, BJP and others who all lost their security deposits.

Gandhi, who resigned the seat on March 23 facing disqualification petitions that she was holding an office of profit by being the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, romped home comfortably by securing 4,74,891 of the 5,90,026 votes polled in a low turnout of 43 percent in the constituency.

It was only a token fight by her opponents, including Samajwadi Party's Raj Kumar Chowdhury (57,003 votes) and BJP's firebrand leader Vinay Katiyar (19,657), while Uma Bharti- supported Apna Dal candidate Prabha Singh trailed far behind.

Gandhi's resounding victory ahead of next year's assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh immediately sparked a demand from a group of 25 MPs, including former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, that she take over the prime ministership and make her son Rahul Gandhi the party chief. The Manmohan Singh government is completing two years on May 21.

The 59-year-old Italy-born widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi achieved the distinction of having the largest victory margin in an election for any member of the Nehru- Gandhi family. The margin was also the biggest ever in Rae Bareli.

Gandhi's campaign was spearheaded by Rahul and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi was her election agent. Attempts by the Samajwadi Party to thwart Rahul's vigorous campaign by fielding several Uttar Pradesh ministers and leaders did not succeed in weaning away support from the Congress.

The Congress president, who refused the post of prime minister after leading her party to victory in the 2004 general election, has increased her influence by the win in Rae Bareli.

Her triumph, however, has come at a time when the party itself has not done remarkably well in assembly polls in four states and the union territory of Pondicherry.

While it appears set to form government in Pondicherry, the Congress was routed by the CPI-M-led LDF in Kerala. In Assam where it was ruling, the party will have to share power for the first time since independence.

The Nehru-Gandhi family or persons close to it have so far won the Rae Bareli seat in 14 of the 17 elections held there since 1952. The BJP bagged the constituency only twice in 1996 and 1998 while the late Raj Narayan, riding on the crest of the Janata Party wave, had humbled former prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1977.

Sonia Gandhi had shifted to this constituency in the last Lok Sabha election from adjoining Amethi, which she had vacated for Rahul.

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