iconimg Friday, September 04, 2015

Sunita Aron, Hindustan Times
Amethi, April 09, 2014
At a small but bustling market in the Muslim-dominated Jais town in Amethi, Vipin Bihari Agarwal, a Congress loyalist since the 1970s, is sharing his anguish over the abysmally poor development in one of the most high-profile constituencies in the country. Amid a cacophony of voices, he says: "Sanjay Gandhi had drawn up a blueprint for Amethi’s development.

The DMs of Rae Bareli and Sultanpur may still have it in their files but the Congress has forgotten about it, leaving us high on emotions and low on development."

Litigants and advocates at the court compound deliver their verdict: "Rahul will win, but with much lesser margin." Some BJP workers, galvanised by the candidature of firebrand Smriti Irani, agree. "It will be difficult to dislodge Rahul. We always wanted the BJP to field a strong candidate and now we have a choice," they say.

The most visible is the Aam Aadmi Party, whose candidate Kumar Vishwas is a subject of both mockery and curiosity in Amethi. But in Rae Bareli, its candidate — Justice (retd) Fakhruddin, a former judge of the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh high courts — developed cold feet long before the campaign started.

The SP’s absence in both Amethi and Rae Bareli is an advantage for the Congress. "Had the SP fielded a Muslim candidate in Amethi, Rahul would have been in a soup," said an elderly Muslim at Jais.

In Rae Bareli, it’s Sonia Gandhi all the way — even in Dalit bastis where they openly admit they owe their shanties and roads to Mayawati but will vote for Sonia.

BJP’s Ajay Agarwal is unwilling to accept his ‘persona non grata’ status in Rae Bareli.

A Supreme Court lawyer whose claim to fame is the legal battles he fought in Bofors and other scams, Agarwal says confidently: "I am here to win the election; rather I have already won it."

In neighbouring Amethi, the district BJP chief says: "People are angry with the Gandhis over corruption and lack of development. Smriti is here to win."

The fact is that the Opposition has yet to find its feet in the Gandhi bastions in central Uttar Pradesh, where the voters are caught between ‘creating history in 2014’ and ‘living in history’.