How tough is Amethi’s battle for Rahul Gandhi?
Amethi – a Congress stronghold for decades - has always enjoyed the status of a VVIP constituency. However, owing to purported years of neglect and lack of development, the anger and frustration among its voters seems to have reached its peak, and this might cost the ruling party heavily this time.
With BJP`s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi making an all out attack against the “arrogant” Gandhi family and throwing his full weight behind party candidate Smriti Irani, combined with the intense door-to-door campaigning done by AAP`s Kumar Vishwas, the electoral battle in Amethi has become very interesting.
The high-pitched campaign by all top guns of different parties - Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Priyanka Gandhi - has triggered speculation that Rahul Gandhi might lose what has been his family`s political bastion for three decades.
Rahul Gandhi, who is the main face of Congress` 2014 election campaign, won the 2009 electoral battle with a margin of 370,000 votes, but given the unpredictability of voters and the “Modi wave” currently sweeping the country, his victory margin is expected to shrink to a large extent and in the worst case scenario, he might even lose the battle completely.
A narrow victory margin or a defeat - both would be a major humiliation - for the Congress vice president who has often referred to Amethi as his “second home”. The fact that Amethi is far from being a modern city despite its status of being a VVIP constituency was first brought to fore by AAP`s poet-turned-politician Kumar Vishwas, whose candidature was announced nearly three months back.
Vishwas, who shifted base from Delhi to a rented house in Amethi, accused the Gandhis of cheating the voters in Amethi and not delivering what they have been repeatedly promising them. Through a series of press conferences, the poet-politician claimed that people in Amethi`s villages don`t get potable drinking water, lack decent roads and health care facilities, and face erratic electricity supply.
Congress initially took Vishwas lightly and dismissed his claims as bogus and politically motivated. The party’s workers even tried to force the AAP leader out of the city. But Vishwas` door-to-door canvassing forced the Congress to wake up from its slumber and make amends to its plan to tackle the “outsider” challenge.
With Vishwas helping locals, who had remained silent owing to their long association with the Gandhis, they also started to voice their dissent. In a clear attempt to arrest the slide, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi also campaigned for her son in Amethi, followed by an all out attempt to keep Amethi in Congress` pocket by Priyanka.
Undauntedly, Priyanka Gandhi`s relentless campaign injected the much-needed enthusiasm in Congress workers. Her sharp and quick ripostes to Narendra Modi, her natural appeal among voters coupled with her expertise in mobilising people made many in the Congress wish she had taken up a larger role.
Priyanka went all guns blazing against the BJP after the party released a video targeting her husband Robert Vadra over land deals. As the BJP attack grew sharper, Priyanka infused an aggressive thrust to the party`s seemingly flagging campaign, matching the hard-hitting style of Modi.
In order to bring her party back in the reckoning, Priyanka mingled with the people of the two constituencies, shared meals with village women in the fields, chatted with villagers to highlight the work done by her brother Rahul. Her speeches were played up by the national media, giving a fillip to the Congress` campaign. She also sought to present Rahul in the mould of their father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Amid a bitter war of words with Congress, BJP`s candidate Smriti Irani convinced the Gujarat CM to campaign in Amethi. Modi`s hour-long presence had the desired mesmerising impact on Amethi voters, who had gathered in large numbers to hear the BJP leader challenge Congress on its own turf and seek support for his younger “sister”.
Under the changed political scenario in Amethi, it is evident that anger against the Congress and Rahul Gandhi is at its peak. It is not that the Congress leader has no admirers but it can`t also be ruled out that his party`s base is eroding fast. There are still a large number of committed Congress workers, who see him as an icon and are all praise for him for reportedly connecting Amethi to six national highways, for putting up computer training centres in all pockets of the constituency and for working actively on the setting up of a food processing hub.
Rahul Gandhi`s most talked about contribution has been his relentless efforts to empower women of this country. Even his staunch opponents admit that during most his visits to Amethi, Rahul spent a lot of his time with the self-help groups - many of them are now successfully providing micro-finance to enterprising rural women.
But with the Congress facing strong anti-incumbency and “the Modi wave” sweeping the country and predictions of BJP making a big comeback, one can`t be certain if Rahul will be able to repeat his 2009 show this time. Just for the record....in 1977, Indira Gandhi`s son Sanjay lost in Amethi.
Will history repeat itself? Wait for May 16.