AMETHI: What went so horribly wrong for Congress President Rahul Gandhi that he lost from his familys pocket borough Amethi Lok Sabha constituency? Ask local leaders and people and they cite reasons like Congress turncoats benefitting BJP`s Smriti Irani and apparent lack of interest of Rahul as well as his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra this time.
Rahul, who was elected three times consecutively from the constituency in 2004, 2009 and 2014, lost this time by over 55,000 votes. The only other time that a Gandhi family member has lost from this constituency, created in 1967, was in 1977 and it was Rahul`s uncle late Sanjay Gandhi who was defeated in an anti-Emergency wave.
Sanjay Gandhi then wrested the seat from Janata Party in 1980 and since then it has remained with the Congress, barring one year when the BJP won the seat. After Sanjay Gandhi`s death in 1981, Rajiv Gandhi won the seat in a by-election the same year. Rajiv Gandhi then retained the seat in 1984 and 1989.
After Rajiv`s death, Captain Satish Sharma, a friend of the Gandhi family won the seat in 1991 and 1996. However, in 1998, Sharma was defeated by Sanjay Singh, former Congress leader who had contested on a BJP ticket. A year later, Sonia Gandhi entered politics and won the Amethi seat. She retained it before shifting to Rae Bareli in 2004 and fielding Rahul from Amethi. Rahul retained it three times but was defeated now.
"Why will anyone vote for such a person who does not visit the people of his constituency," posed Surendra Singh, a resident of Buraulia in Amethi, while referring to Rahul. He said the Congress chief had visited Buraulia three years ago and did not visit here even in the election season. Significantly, Rahul was conspicuous by his absence even during the day of polling in the constituency while his rival Irani was active.
Vishun Kumar Singh, a resident of the Nara village, said the virtual absence of Rahul and Priyanka from Amethi during the elections had hurt them badly. "Earlier Priyanka Gandhi used to camp in Amethi and Rae Bareli and would take care of the campaigning. But this time, both of them were busy in campaigning in other parts of the state," he said. "In their absence, the campaign carried out by the local leaders hardly generated any buzz among the people," Singh said.
Rakesh Singh, a local Congress leader, said the party was very weak in Amethi organisationally as compared to the BJP. "Had we not been weak, we would not have lost four out of five Assembly seats of Amethi Lok Sabha constituency in the 2017 Assembly polls," he said. He said turncoats and BJP`s four MLAs brought votes for their party in Amethi, making a huge dent in the Congress votes.
"Chandra Prakash Mishra, formerly of the BSP, who contested against Rahul Gandhi in 2004 and got close of 1 lakh votes, had joined the BJP. And Mishra`s joining the BJP gave an edge to the saffron party as he had a good command on the backward and Dalit votes in Amethi," Singh said.
Rakesh Singh said that Dalits and OBCs constitute about 58 per cent of the total population of Amethi, while Thakurs and Brahmins constitute over 26 per cent and Muslims for over 16 per cent.
Others who have joined the BJP in the past five years include Jang Bahadur Singh (Congress), Dhiru Tripathi (Congress and then SP), ex-Samajwadi Party MLA Gajadhar Singh, former Congress and BSP leader Ashish Tripathi, SP leader Rajesh Masala and ex BSP leader Sriram Krantikari.
Krishna Tiwari, who had joined the BJP leaving Congress in 2015 told IANS, "Several Congress leaders leaving the party made things worse for the Congress as they joined the ruling BJP in last five years."
He said besides Congress leaders, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party leaders, who also switched to the saffron party in last few years proved a turning point for the BJP.
Giving examples of the leaders who switched to the BJP, Tiwari said, "From Salon assembly constituency, the Congress`s forward face and former MLC Dinesh Pratap Singh has switched sides to the BJP and contested against Sonia Gandhi."
He said, Shiv Balak Pasi of the Congress had also joined the BJP. "And after his death, his wife Kamla Devi has also joined the BJP," he said. Farman Haider, a local resident of Musafirkhana constituency on the other hand blamed the local Congress leaders for Rahul Gandhi`s defeat in Amethi.
He said the local leaders like Deepak Singh, Yogendra Mishra (Amethi Congress President, who resigned earlier in the day) and Chandrakant Dubey did not allow Rahul Gandhi to connect with the people."
"If he is not allowed to interact with the people of Amethi then how will he come to know about the problems of the people," Haider rued.
Surendra Singh, another resident of Burualia, the village which was adopted by former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, said that the Congress chief must introspect why the people did not vote for him this time.
He said, "The roads in his area, scholarships to the students and youths, Kendriya Vidyalaya centre and several schemes brought by Irani in Amethi helped her connect with the masses, especially the youth."
Pointing towards the number of visits of Irani in Amethi and Rahul Gandhi, Singh said, "Even after losing in 2014, she (Irani) came to Amethi for over 35 times. She met people personally. And when they went to Delhi, she also remembered their names. While Rahul Gandhi visited for over 15-16 times."
"And the local BJP leaders acted as a bridge between Irani and the people of Amethi to fulfill their demands," he said.
Ashok Singh said that Didi (Irani) helped people in their testing times. Like when the houses or crops of people or farmers were destroyed in natural calamities she immediately sent help to those families.
Gyan Pratap Singh, owner of the Alok Dhaba, said that Irani has personally connected with the people of Amethi. For instance, she has personally got over 50,000 people covered under a central government life insurance scheme, besides ensuring benefits under various other initiatives.