Amethi: A tryst with destiny that wasn’t to be

Amethi was waiting for Rahul Gandhi. When he decided to make Rae Bareli his second arena, as part of his much-awaited return to north India, it undoubtedly became a bit of a letdown for his supporters
Amethi cannot entirely vanish into the provincial anonymity that is the lot of its other contiguous constituencies.
Amethi cannot entirely vanish into the provincial anonymity that is the lot of its other contiguous constituencies.Photo | Express

AMETHI: Amethi is waiting for Godot. Or for a Gandhi.

Not just for a 53-year-old with that name, but something inclusive of that—and more than that. A Nehru-Gandhi did not get into a direct contest here, but had long-time aide KL Sharma stand in.

Those within and outside who had bet big on a re-run of 2019 are disappointed. The gladiatorial fight that was to be is now substantially downscaled. But a fight is on, albeit by proxy, and reduced to a scrimmage of competitive accusations.

Even while abandoning Rahul in 2019, it’s as if Amethi kept up its love for high-profile contests, as if to keep itself in the reckoning by default, its own little tryst with destiny. They are getting one, even if in an abridged version.

Smriti Irani, Union minister and the BJP’s prime commentator-critic on all things Nehru-Gandhi, has stayed put to defend her turf.

Though Rahul Gandhi has shifted to adjoining Rae Bareli, he looms large even in his absence. Mostly because his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, is quite visibly there. Even though the Congress has appointed Rampur MLA Aradhana Mishra ‘Mona’ as the party poll in-charge for Amethi, Priyanka is managing the electioneering here along with Rae Bareli, like a safe-keeper of the legacy vote.

All around the constituency, the pockmarked narrative of Indian democracy reveals itself.

Amethi moves through its village dirt tracks and peri-urban roadways at a groaning pace, as if caught in a time zone of struggle all its own. But also representative, at once, of the cracks in the India story.

Despite its seeming mundaneness, the Amethi electorate stands witness to history. Its creation, in 1967, was coeval with the unfolding of the crucial post-Nehru phase in modern Indian politics. Since then, it has in a way reflected the mood of the nation at all the cusp moments. Electing a Congress candidate, Vidya Dhar Bajpai, as its first MP, going with the Janata Party candidate in 1977 and a BJP candidate in 1998 and 2019.

Amethi cannot entirely vanish into the provincial anonymity that is the lot of its other contiguous constituencies.
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Intermittently, and for a long period till 2014, Amethi backed the Congress—all of nine times. Emerging as a family bastion that sent Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, and then Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, to the Lok Sabha.

In the first instance, the seat changed MPs under a tragic circumstance (Sanjay died in a plane crash). In the latter instance, it was an ‘entitled’ transfer of legacy, giving rise to the third generation of Indians to use the phrase ‘dynastic’ politics.

Nonetheless, Amethi was waiting for Rahul Gandhi. When he decided to make Rae Bareli his second arena, as part of his much-awaited return to north India, it undoubtedly became a bit of a letdown for his supporters.

A proxy war has been raging since, with Smriti Irani left stranded in a lonely fight almost—she had been camping in the constituency for weeks before the Congress made up its mind.

If insiders are to be believed, INDIA bloc leaders strongly advised the GOP not to let any part of the election become a clash of big names.

‘Avoid Smriti vs Rahul contest’, it was said.

For that would have hogged the headlines, overshadowing all else. It was to be made local—or rather, ‘issue-based’.

Amethi cannot entirely vanish into the provincial anonymity that is the lot of its other contiguous constituencies. (Who after all thinks of Pratapgarh or Sultanpur? Although Ayodhya, its northern neighbour, is another matter.) Such diminution of stature is impossible. What with Priyanka at the helm of an army come to reclaim its castle.

And the aggressive ‘Didiji’—as Smriti is called in these parts—is also quite hands-on, not confining herself to the plushness of her Gauriganj residence. The BJP top brass too have rolled up their sleeves, strategising to retain the seat, come what may.

What benefits have accrued—or not—to the people of this star constituency under this regime or that?

What development has happened?

That’s the ball being thrown around in the heat and dust of Amethi.

Memories, long and short, are being dredged up. Both sides claim to know Amethi like the back of their hand and take credit for having done ‘transformative work’.

Each side disagrees entirely with the other, of course.

"What have the Gandhis ever done for Amethi? Look at the work of the last five years, from electricity to roads…," Smriti thunders in meeting after meeting, bite after bite.

“What has she done? Can she even count the number of villages in Amethi on her fingers?’’ Priyanka retorts. She lists the universal themes—joblessness, high prices, and the promise of instant ‘Nyay’.

There’s nothing meethi about Amethi right now. Bitterness is writ large over the discourse as the attacks get personal.

It may not be easy for the Congress. The ground is a bit more alien than it used to be. Part of the reason lies in Amethi’s five assembly segments. Three of these are held by the BJP—Tiloi, Jagdishpur (SC) and Salon (SC). Two by the Samajwadi Party—Gauriganj and Amethi.

Ironically, the latter two segments, particularly Gauriganj, are better off than the three held by the BJP.

In a curious inversion, therefore, the SP MLAs and their families—Gayatri Prajapati’s wife Maharaji Prajapati and Rakesh Pratap Singh—are supporting Smriti. This is while the Congress has a tie-up with Akhilesh Yadav’s party and is dependent on its workers for election work.

Former Congress MLA Deepak Singh admits it’s time to "tread carefully."

He can barely hide his disappointment that Rahul changed mind about contesting from Amethi. “We’re working on the ground silently,” he says.

The community map is more or less equal—savarnas (29%), OBCs (26%), Muslims (20%) and SCs (26%)—but they are deeply divided.

Sharma is attempting an MY + Brahmin combination. Whether he will succeed or not depends on who you ask.

Didiji has put in a lot of hard work. She lives here and votes here. She has a clear edge because of her track record of development work,” says Govind Singh, a local BJP worker, brushing aside talk about her being a bit brusque in her interactions with the local unit.

“Amethi has never seen such an involved MP before. Didi sab ka dukh sukh ki saathi hai (she’s with everyone in their happiness and sorrow),’’ says another BJP worker.

Any delay or uneven development is blamed on the local bureaucracy. However, even as she wades from one village chaupal to the next, talk about Smriti focusing more on Gauriganj and Salon fly in the air.

The constituency is also divided into micro zones of influence. The Congress presence is more in the southern parts of Amethi, Tiloi and Jagdishpur, where, local leaders claim, Smriti “has focused less.”

Added to this is the still-simmering controversy over the shutting down and reopening of the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital in Munshiganj. There are also whispers about the BJP’s Tiloi MLA, Mayankeshwar Saran Singh, having uneven equations with the MP.

For cycle mechanic Rajesh, none of this matters much.

He straightens his half-clad, sun-browned body and wipes the sweat off his brow as he says, “So far, no one has come to ask for votes. My grandfather and father used to campaign for Rajiv Gandhi. It’s my family legacy, can’t break my ties with Rahulji.”

Does he know Rahul is not contesting?

He turns his glazed eyes to the far horizon. “How does it matter? Dilli bahut dur hai. My work can only earn my family two daily meals,” he adds.

Does Amethi have no dreams? Yes, it would like to be Baramati.

But for that, UP has to become Maharashtra—a growth engine.

As of now, though, college student Ankush Tiwari’s wish list is only to get to Mumbai for a job.

Amethi cannot entirely vanish into the provincial anonymity that is the lot of its other contiguous constituencies.
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Amethi cannot entirely vanish into the provincial anonymity that is the lot of its other contiguous constituencies.
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