New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi is trailing in the Gandhi family bastion of Amethi. Pitted against BJP’s Smriti Irani, the union minister for textiles, Gandhi was trailing by around 5,000 votes at 11:45 am.
Amid mounting pressure from the BJP and Irani in Amethi, Gandhi had opted to contest from a second constituency, Wayanad in Kerala, which was considered a safe seat. Nonetheless, a loss in his family’s pocket borough could be a huge embarrassment for the Congress president.
The Congress has lost the Amethi seat only twice in India’s electoral history — once during the post-Emergency Janata Party wave of 1977 and then in 1998. It is considered a Gandhi family bastion because four members of the family have contested and won from Amethi — Rahul Gandhi (2004, 2009, 2014), mother Sonia (1999), father Rajiv (1981 bypoll, 1984, 1989 and posthumously in 1991) and uncle Sanjay (won in 1980, lost in 1977).
Irani puts up a tough fight
The battle in Amethi became tougher for Gandhi over the last two general elections as is reflected in his margin of victories — from 3.7 lakh in 2009 to 1.07 lakh when pitted against Irani in 2014.
Despite her defeat, Irani kept visiting the constituency and accused the Congress president of merely using it as a vote bank and not taking any steps for its development.
Days before the Lok Sabha elections were announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also addressed a rally in Amethi and hit out at the Congress for not doing enough.
Referred to as Smriti ‘didi’ (older sister) in the constituency, she made 38 visits to Amethi in the last five years, and managed to create her own space there. With BJP governments at the Centre and in the state, Irani and the BJP’s strategy had been to get projects approved for Amethi.
The BJP sent some of its biggest campaigners — Shah, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya and Bhojpuri film star and Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari — to canvass for Irani, whose growing local popularity took the fight to Gandhi.
It was not only Gandhi’s diminishing victory margins that were a cause of worry for the Congress. What worried the leadership was the fact that things became quite rough for the party in the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, as the BJP won four out of the five assembly seats under the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency. Even the seat it lost— Gauriganj — went to the Samajwadi Party.
How Priyanka tried to make up for Rahul’s absence
Ever since the election dates were announced in March, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, visited Amethi seven times, holding small public meetings, corner meetings and roadshows. She also made impromptu visits to people’s houses.
Not only did she try to connect with the people by entering their homes, listening to their problems and engaging with children and women in particular, she also made random stops wherever she found Congress supporters and interacted with them.
For the people of the constituency, Priyanka became a familiar face. Her speeches would always mention Rahul’s “dil ka rishta” (connection of the heart) with Amethi and how the Modi government was stalling development projects there.
Apart from Priyanka, other senior Congress leaders maintained that Gandhi was not worried about losing Amethi or the BJP’s allegation of “neglecting” it. For instance, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had said Amethi was the Congress president’s “karmabhoomi” and he would never desert it.