RAE BARELI: Shafiqeur Rehman, who runs a shop opposite the Congress office in Rae Bareli, was 9-year-old when he saw PM Jawaharlal Nehru come here to campaign for his son-in-law Feroze Gandhi during India’s first Lok Sabha elections in 1951. He clearly remembers Indira Gandhi dressed in a white and blue border saree accompanying him then. Now, 76, Rehman has seen transition in this Congress bastion from Feroze to Indira and now Sonia Gandhi, who is seeking a fourth re-election to the 17th Lok Sabha. No surprise, he showers loads of praises on the Gandhis, especially Sonia, for setting up AIIMS and Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology.
His 35-year-old nephew Altaf Ahmed agrees that Sonia, MP from Rae Bareli since 2004, has focused on development in the constituency situated around 150 km from Lucknow. But he begs to differ when it comes to her efforts to connect with people-saying, she is ‘non-approachable’.
No blind support
The town with over 16 lakh electors is noticing a generational change towards the Gandhi family. People who have seen the family for decades live by their name, but the younger generation has started questioning the faith and seeking logic for everything, though they express commitment towards their MP.
“She has tried to bring all facilities to Rae Bareli. She planned to make the place an educational hub by setting up a petroleum university, fashion technology institute and AIIMS. The Rail Coach Factory was also set up her, but the present government is shifting all good institutions out of here,” said Rehman, dressed in a white kurta-pyjama.
But he was stopped in between by his nephew who questions why there are no good inter-colleges in the town. Rae Bareli still has single railway track and doubling work has been progressing at snails pace. “I think the problem with a high profile MP is that they don’t climb the ladder to reach the top but directly land by helicopter,” says Ahmed, who is also in business.
Voting is scheduled on May 6. Sonia was last here for filing nomination, when she held a road show with Priyanka and Rahul. Since 1951, the Congress has won 16 times (including three by polls) and lost only thrice. The biggest defeat was post emergency in 1977 when Indira Gandhi was defeated by Janta Dal’s Raj Narain.
Caught between two
Aman Kumar Yadav, 29, who runs a mobile shop in Bacchhrawan, says PM Narendra Modi should come back at the Centre. “I will vote for Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli as she should win from here. However, I feel that Modi ji should be back at the Centre for he is a good leader,” says Yadav, as he engages in a discussion on the Gandhis with his neighbour Jagdish Prasad Yadav, 67, who runs a kirana shop.Jagdish Prasad, who was a polling agent for Janta Dal in 1977, still remembers the charisma of Indira in Rae Bareli.
“There is no comparison between Indiraji and others in the Gandhi family. She was a very powerful leader who took some very tough decisions to run the country,” Prasad said. The younger folks give reasons for their liking for Modi but don’t forget to equally commend their MP. “Modiji has done a lot of work. What Rahul Gandhi is saying that he will give `72,000 as minimum income, the party will first take the money from us and then return the same. But Soniaji is a rashtriya neta (national leader) and she has to win,” said Rajendra Kumar Kushwaha, a 40-year-old farmer.
The Gandhis have built two guest houses in Rae Bareli and Amethi. In Rae Bareli, the guest house in Buemau village has high walls and iron gates. Few meters away are small houses, some covered with temporary roofs. “We are their neighbours and don’t have drinking water or toilets. I have gone several times to meet Soniaji but was not allowed. Our village votes for her every time,” said Kalpana Mishra, 29, a mother of two.