AMETHI: As Amethi goes to vote on Monday, it will for the first time in decades witness a tough straight fight. The edge-of-the-seat contest is between sitting member of Parliament and Congress president Rahul Gandhi and BJP’s Union minister Smriti Irani.
The equation changed a tad on Sunday after BSP chief Mayawati directed the mahagathbandhan (SP-BSP-RLD) to work for Rahul in Amethi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in neighbouring Rae Bareli.
“The BJP and the Congress are alike. We don’t have any coalition with the Congress for this election but to defeat the BJP, our coalition will vote for the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli,” the BSP chief said in a statement.
Mayawati was reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to sow confusion in the mahagathbandhan, as he had alleged that the SP and the Congress were having a tacit understanding behind her back.
Attempts to strengthen the Congress’ hand notwithstanding, there is widespread anger among people in Amethi over their three-time sitting MP staying away from the constituency and failing to pay attention to development work in the seat that elected three other Gandhis—Sanjay, Rajiv and Sonia—in the past.
Rajiv vs Rahul
One of the reasons for the anger is that people here compare Rahul with his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who is still fondly remembered in the entire town for the development work he initiated. People have anecdotes to share about the senior Gandhi who, too, was elected thrice from Amethi.
“Rajiv Gandhi, even as a PM, used to visit us. He had appointed a person as in-charge here and choupals (village meetings) were held once a month to address problems faced by the people. Those were times when we saw what it means to be a member of a VVIP constituency. He used to visit our villages and even had meals at our house. We continue to vote for the Gandhi family,” said Sushil Jaiswal, 65, who runs a small tea shop in Kusumbhi village under Singhpur block in Amethi.
He still remembers Rajiv’s car crossing his tea shop en route to the village. But Jaiswal says, “It all stopped with his passing away in 1991. Rahul Gandhi has not visited the village ever.”
Lack of Development
A visit to the small town—about 130 km from Lucknow—takes one through the Amethi bypass connecting the Lucknow-Jaunpur highway. The bypass is in bad shape. In the Jagdishpur industrial area of Amethi, one can find many locked textile mills and industries.
People claim Rahul did not make enough efforts to revive the closed units that were started by Rajiv and his younger brother Sanjay in the late 70s and early 80s.
In Amethi town, there are few shops near the railway station. For a traveller, it is difficult to find a decent hotel for lodging or a good eating joint. All this has given Smriti Irani enough fodder to attack Rahul and even call him the “missing MP”. She has drawn enough traction from people and praise from PM Modi, though she is described as haughty by leaders within her party.
“This time it is going to be ‘kante ki takkar’ (tough fight). Even after losing elections in 2014, Smriti visited Amethi several times in the last five years. We don’t even remember the name of our forefathers. How long do they think we will vote in the name of Nehru-Gandhi?” says Dinesh Vishwakarma, 35, who runs a carpenter shop in a market in Amethi.
However, to the benefit of the Congress, there is no Mahagathbandhan candidate and the Samajwadi Party top leadership has asked its party workers to campaign for the Congress. In 2014, the BSP candidate had polled around 80,000 votes.
“Rahul Gandhi would have lost to Smriti Irani if there was an alliance candidate here. But now this will benefit him and the alliance vote, which is around 1.5-1.75 lakh, is expected to get divided in a ratio of 70:30 in favour of Rahul,” said Pradeep Yadav, an SP worker.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress was routed in all five Assembly constituencies in Amethi. The BJP won four and the SP one. Enough indication of the tough fight.