THE UNGUARDED FORTRESS OF THE GANDHI FAMILY

Months before the general elections, the state of two of the most famous constituencies in India, Rae Bareili and Amethi, lies in neglect as the Congress tries to blame its managers for its poor performance in the area

Pradeep Kapoor Rae Bareili and Amethi

When it comes to their Lok Sabha constituencies, Rae Bareili and Amethi, both Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are walking a tightrope. The inaccessibility of these top leaders to their voters, poor communication by their managers with locals, collapse of party organization and lack of any development is likely to create hurdles for the mother and son in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The Gandhi family’s woes may be compounded by UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s recent promotion of two ministers of state to the cabinet rank, both belonging to the traditional Gandhi stronghold. Minister of State for Geology and Mining, Gayatri Prasad Prajapati, an OBC and key face of the Samajwadi Party, successfully led the party’s Backward Yatra from Lucknow to Jhansi to consolidate the OBCs. He is also the MLA from Amethi.

Significantly enough, the other MoS elevated to cabinet rank is Manoj Pande, MLA from Rae Bareili, and influential in netting the Brahmin vote bank. Political observers feel that the elevation of these two ministers is clear indication that the party will field candidates against Sonia and Rahul. However, while releasing the party list earlier, SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav had said that they would not field candidates against Sonia Gandhi. On Amethi though, he said no decision had been taken. But the changing political scenario suggests that the SP will still most likely prop candidates against Sonia and Rahul. Experts believe the decision has come about in light of the recent deterioration in the relations between the two parties.

In a recent visit to Rae Bareili and Amethi by this correspondent, the anger among the voters—particularly the youth—was palpable. They rue the fact that despite being VIP constituencies for several decades, real development is yet to come. Voters are finding appeal in the development slogans of BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi, as well as calls by AAP leaders to end the dynastic rule of the Gandhi family.

The impression one gets after visiting Rae Bareili and Amethi is that Sonia Gandhi may sail through but Rahul Gandhi will face a tough battle. Sanjay Singh, the incumbent Congress MP from Sultanpur and erstwhile ruler of the royal family of Amethi, is now being given a Rajya Sabha ticket, after there were rumours that he would contest on a BJP ticket.

Although Congress star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi has decided to limit herself to two constituencies, even her charisma couldn’t shake off the anti-incumbency factor in Rae Bareili, where the party lost all five assembly seats. In Amethi, the party won only two out of five assembly seats in 2012.
At a public meeting called by AAP leader Kumar Vishwas at the Ramlila Maidan in Amethi on January 12, a sixty-year-old woman, Mangala, had come to see if this supposed new political party was any different. Mangala said she had been meeting the gram pradhan, block pramukh and even MLA Gayatri Prajapati of the SP regarding water, power and land issues, but to no avail. ‘Any party that even attempts to help us out will get 13 votes from our family,’ Mangala had announced.

Another local, Vivek Kumar, who had come with his wife and baby, said he had been working in the public sector in Amethi for the past ten years but had not seen any major development work taking place. He lamented the lack of proper roads, which caused grave difficulties for the villagers. Brijesh Mishra, a student of Shiv Pratap Inter College in Amethi, says that Rahul Gandhi did nothing to create jobs for people belonging to the area. Brijesh claims that on several occasions, students would stop the Rahul Gandhi’s motorcades to draw his attention to their plight. He would promptly assure action, but there was never follow-up from Gandhi’s managers. On the other hand, the minority community has pledged its full support to Gandhi and his party.

Rafeeq Ahmad, from Amethi, says people of his constituency are emotionally linked with Rahul Gandhi and would vote for him. He attributes all the development work that has taken place in Amethi to Rajiv and Rahul Gandhi. Ahmad feels the BJP and other parties would not be able to make any dent here in the Lok Sabha polls. He could be wrong, but he does point out that Kumar Vishwas had to depend on outsiders to hold his first ever meeting in Amethi. “Not even half of Ramlila ground was covered in the AAP meeting, 75 per cent people were brought from outside,” says Ahmad.

Similarly, another local, MA Khan, says that although Kumar Vishwas exhorted the locals to end the dynastic rule of the Gandhi family, he could not refrain from announcing his Brahmin credentials, despite the fact that the AAP has been claiming to work against communal and caste-based politics. Vishwas faced huge protest following his remarks against Muslim religious leaders. Khan asks, why would the Muslims vote for Vishwas, who sings praises of Narendra Modi and criticises Muslim religious leaders?

Congress leader and social activist Jagdish Piyush, from Amethi, dismisses any possible threats to Rahul Gandhi’s winning the seat, even after factoring in Sanjay Singh. Piyush says the people of Amethi have seen the development work; in Amethi today, there are 52 trains linking it to the rest of the country.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014