Amethi to see high-stakes Lok Sabha poll battle as BJP goes all out to defeat Rahul Gandhi in family stronghold

Saurabh Sharma | Mar 16, 2019 | 5 min read


Saurabh Sharma and Asgar Naqvi


Amethi: A (cyber) war of words broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on March 3, gave the Korwa Ordnance Factory in Amethi the technology to manufacture AK-203 guns. This was allegedly a bid to take credit for the development works done in this constituency, which has been held by the Gandhi-Nehru family since eons.

The family bastion has turned into a high-stake battleground where voting in the Lok Sabha election is scheduled in the fifth phase of polling on May 6. Polling in Uttar Pradesh will happen in seven phases.

The Congress, in its first list of candidates, has fielded party president Rahul Gandhi from the Amethi constituency; BJP is yet to release its candidates, but speculation is that Union minister Smriti Irani will challenge Rahul on his home turf, just like last time — in 2014, she lost to Rahul but not without giving a tough fight; since then, Irani has been visiting Amethi and taking stock of developmental works being done there.


Jumping in to battle 

In the first week of March, BJP heavyweight Nitin Gadkari launched some schemes for Amethi; meanwhile, top party functionaries, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, have been working to highlight the grand old party’s apathy towards Amethi.

While the BJP is trying to build a narrative that the Congress illegally acquired residents’ land in the name of Samrat Cycle Factory, the latter has chalked out a strategy to counter these claims.

According to Congress president in Amethi, Yogendra Mishra, the party will take out a Sandesh Yatra in the third week of March to highlight the party’s projects and developmental works initiated there.

“It’s much needed, because the present government is trying to take credit for all our projects,” Mishra said, adding that the BJP has snatched many projects in Amethi and is attempting to hijack several others, like the Korwa Ordnance Factory, which was given to Amethi by Rahul in 2007. 

As per the plan chalked out by the Congress, the Sandesh Yatra will have about 20 ‘Nukkar (street-corner) Meetings’ over three days each in Amethi constituency’s five assembly segments — Tiloi, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj, Amethi, and Salon. The party cadre will go to local markets, tea stalls, and other spots to spread the word about the work Congress has done there. 

Rahul made four trips and spent nine days in his parliamentary constituency after becoming party president, while Irani made six trips in 2018 alone. 


What do experts say?

According to political commentator J P Shukla, Amethi is a constituency where prestige is at stake for both the BJP and Congress — while the latter has been holding the seat since before the Emergency (1975), Irani invested a lot of time there after losing in the 2014 polls. 

“The Amethi and Raebareli Lok Sabha seats have been nurtured by the Nehru-Gandhi family. They themselves made it a high-stake seat and the BJP wants to end this. By fielding a heavyweight like Irani, the BJP is challenging Rahul individually; none of the other parties are fielding candidates for this seat because the entire Opposition does not want Modi to return,” Shukla said, adding that it would be very demoralising for the party if Rahul lost the seat in this election.

Vikram Singh, a senior advocate and political analyst based in Amethi, said the fight is going to be very tough for the Gandhi scion this time because the BJP cadre is extremely active on the ground and has been doing its best to reach out to as many voters as possible.

“In the last election, both Rahul and Priyanka had to visit each and every block to convince the voters and the winning margin was 1 lakh-odd votes, down from 2009’s 3 lakh. This time, it is going to be tougher, because the Congress cadre is only seen on television debates and not on the ground, even though they (Congress workers) brag a lot about their groundwork,” he added.

“The only thing that could help Rahul win this time is sympathy, because for the people of Amethi, the Gandhi family put the district on the map. At the moment, I don’t see anything else in Rahul’s favour that could help him to win this seat.”

Professor R R Jha, a political science professor from the Banaras Hindu University, said the battle in Amethi is going to be interesting because big names are contesting the election but it should be kept in mind that fielding bigshots to challenge Rahul, who comes from the grand old party, is also a matter of political respect. 

“We can see that the BJP is going full throttle against the Congress in Amethi... If you see the history, Lohia always contested elections against Jawaharlal Nehru but never won and even the Congress fielded Karn Singh from Lucknow against former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” the professor added. 

“In politics, it is not the seat that is important but the candidate who is contesting the election. It is not Amethi but a matter of prestige for both Irani and Rahul. It will be a very big blow to whichever of the two loses this seat. It is now up to the people of Amethi to choose the best among them.” 

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