Gandhi flew in here for a day-long programme in the constituency and was led by hundreds of bikers, waving party flags from the airport to the heart of the city.

The Congress President is also set to participate in a road show which would take her to various parts of the city. Her choice of starting the campaign from Varanasi for the Assembly elections scheduled next year is significant given the fact that it sends a signal that Congress is daring Modi on his home turf.

This is Gandhi's first visit to Varanasi after Modi became Prime Minister. Gandhi is scheduled to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in the evening to offer prayers.

She is accompanied by Sheila Dikshit, who is the party's Chief Ministerial candidate in the state, AICC General Secretary Gulam Nabi Azad, UPCC Chief Raj Babbar, senior party leaders Pramod Tiwari and Sanjay Singh.

Congress has launched a campaign "dard-e-banaras" to highlight lack of development in Varanasi, which Modi is representing for over two years in the Lok Sabha.

Congress is out of power for 27 years in Uttar Pradesh and is projecting that the state has gone from bad to worse in last 27 years through a campaign called "27 saal UP behal".

Varanasi is a key place in eastern Uttar Pradesh having some 160 of the 403 constituencies in the state. Congress had only won two seats-Amethi and Rae Bareli in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

The UP Assembly elections outcome will also set the stage for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor has been roped in by Congress to help and assist the UPCC in the Assembly polls. Kishore was earlier strategist of Modi in Lok Sabha polls and Nitish Kumar in Bihar Assembly polls.

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