If Rahul Gandhi loses Amethi, the blame will be on Priyanka. But a victory could pave way for the Congress General Secretary in Uttar Pradesh’s electoral politics.
Union Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Smriti Irani, who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Amethi, claims Priyanka Gandhi Vadra takes her husband’s name (Robert Vadra) less, and Irani’s name more these days. Amethi, the most high-profile constituency in Uttar Pradesh, is currently held by Priyanka’s brother and Congress chief, Rahul Gandhi.
Irani’s jibe against Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress’s eastern UP chief since January, reveals how deeply Gandhi is involved in Amethi. Her role is to ensure her brother’s fourth consecutive victory from the constituency which went to polls on May 6.
Priyanka, not Rahul, led the command of the poll campaign in Amethi. Her job included trading barbs with Irani. She did it well: “Irani is doing drama in Amethi. She came here 16 times in five years, while your MP has visited the place twice as much. We distributed our election manifesto, but the BJP is distributing ₹20,000 to village pradhans.”
Starting March 27, Priyanka made seven trips to Amethi. The last one was on Sunday, May 5, the last day of campaigning. Each trip involved 4-5 corner meetings and a roadshow. She covered all five Assembly constituencies extensively. Despite being in charge of entire eastern UP, her visits to Amethi became more frequent as the polling date drew closer.
In contrast, Rahul visited the place only thrice in this period. “First, to file his nomination, which was preceded by a massive roadshow. The second time, when the entire family did a roadshow in Raibareli during Sonia Gandhi’s nomination. On May 4, he visited the constituency for the third time and held meetings with women groups and booth workers,” says Congress leader Anshu Awasthi. Rahul also wrote an open letter to Amethi voters promising to give momentum to the development works allegedly blocked by the BJP government.
Last month, Priyanka even managed to poach Irani’s aide Ravi Dutt Mishra, at whose home the BJP leader used to stay whenever she visited Amethi.
The alliance of the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal hasn’t fielded its candidate yet.
Likely post-result scenario
Priyanka Gandhi has managed Amethi and Raibareli (for her mother Sonia) constituencies in every Lok Sabha election since 2004. She has been taking care of the cadre and people in these two constituencies, since before she was given a formal post in the party.
If Rahul loses Amethi now, the blame will be shared by Priyanka. This will shun the perception—within the party and outside—that Priyanka is more capable than her brother.
If Rahul wins Amethi and Wayanad both, he will leave Amethi for Priyanka, Congress leaders admit.
Priyanka is expected to contest the by-poll and take the Congress forward to the 2022 UP Assembly elections, as per Rahul’s vision for the party and his sister.
Will history repeat itself?
The Congress party has lost the Amethi seat only twice since independence.
In 1977, Sanjay Gandhi lost his first parliamentary polls here. In 1998, the Congress’s Captain Satish Sharma had also lost to Sanjay Singh of the BJP (now in Congress). “Both were unusual defeats though. In 1977, the loss was mainly because of anti-Indira Gandhi wave in the post-Emergency period. And in 1998, the candidate didn’t belong to the Gandhi family,” says Hemant Tiwari, a political analyst.
Rahul Gandhi made his electoral debut from Amethi in 2004, when Sonia Gandhi moved to Raebareli, formerly represented by Indira Gandhi. He won with over 66 per cent votes. The vote share increased to nearly 72 per cent in 2009. But the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw both the vote share and winning margin reduce drastically. His vote share in 2014 was 46.71 per cent, which was the lowest for a Congress candidate from the Gandhi family in the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency. Rahul Gandhi’s winning margin over Smriti Irani was little over 1 lakh votes. He had won the 2009 elections by around 2.70 lakh votes.
Things have changed in the BJP’s favour ever since. In the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Congress failed to win a single seat under the Amethi Lok Sabha seat that comprises five Assembly segments. The BJP won Amethi, Tiloi, Jagdishpur and Salon Assembly seats while the SP emerged victorious in Gauriganj constituency.
Against this backdrop came Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from another seat: Kerala’s Wayanad. This gave currency to the campaign of the BJP that ground is slipping from under the Congress president’s feet in Amethi. On its part, the BJP has not relieved the pressure on the Congress leadership even for a day, ever since Irani lost the last Lok Sabha polls to Gandhi. Since the past month or so, Irani has been virtually camping in the constituency. Her efforts to draw water from a hand pump to douse a fire in a village won many hearts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have also addressed rallies here.
“It won’t be that easy for Rahul this time despite the fact that he is the Congress president now. His decision to contest from Wayanad indicates that Congress has lost the game here,” says BJP spokesperson Harish Srivastava.
Congress leader Anshu Awasthi rejects the BJP’s claims. “Since most prime ministers belonged to North India, our southern part was bit neglected in Indian politics. For the same reason, Congress has projected its PM candidate from South India this time and Rahulji contested from Wayanad. Rahul is set to win Amethi with a bigger margin.”
The fight in Amethi is very tough and the results can go either way. Analyst Hemant Tiwari says, “The people of Amethi have long been loyal to the Gandhi family but the younger generation thinks differently. They can’t ignore the fact that Amethi didn’t develop as much as it deserved despite electing members of the Gandhi family. Only election results (on May 23) will reveal what the people of Amethi want.”