The high-profile Amethi Lok Sabha constituency, created in 1967, is headed for a few firsts this election.
It is for the first time that the opposition is seriously fighting for the Gandhi citadel – in the words of BJP’s Uttar Pradesh in-charge Amit Shah, to win it – by fielding a candidate of some political stature. This has made the Congress feel the heat there for the first time.
And Amethi is perhaps the first constituency to have multiple local manifestos, as Loksangrah Abhiyan convener Vinod Yadav, who spent months to prepare a citizen charter, says.
Relishing the poll feast are the goggle-eyed people of Amethi whose tryst with politicians has by and large been confined to the Gandhi family during the constituency’s 47-year-old history. The Gandhis have accounted for 26 of the 44 years that the Congress has represented the seat.
The Gandhis’ hold on the seat since Sanjay Gandhi won it in 1980 has provided enough fodder for a resurgent opposition to attack the Congress on Amethi’s backwardness. The opposition’s stint in Amethi was from 1977-80 (Janata Party) and from 1998-1999 (BJP), the second time because Amethi royal Sanjay Singh had switched over from Congress.
Local Congress leaders say Singh and his wife Amita were exploring other political options. The Congress placated him by making him a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, as his exit could have placed hurdles in Rahul Gandhi’s path to the parliament.
But the BJP, by fielding Smriti Irani opposite Rahul, is said to have made his fight that much tougher while Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas has the surprise factor.
“The Congress is struggling to maintain the victory margin for Rahul, if not the seat, and this is apparent from the intensity with which Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been campaigning for her brother,” a Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
Priyanka has not forgotten the humiliation the family suffered in the 2012 assembly elections when Congress lost three of the five assembly segments under Amethi. “The defeat sends a wrong message to the nation,” she had said then.
She is aware that Mandate 2014 is not like the friendly battles of the past against dummy candidates.
The day BJP announced Irani’s candidature, people wondered if Narendra Modi would come to campaign for her. They had their doubts, as satraps Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati have never addressed election rallies in Amethi for SP and BSP. Even former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani adhered to the unwritten code of avoiding meetings in the constituency.
The BJP seems to have broken that code in a bid to wrest Amethi.
Locals agree that the Gandhis have put Amethi on the international map by representing it. But BJP has changed the tenor by campaigning aggressively, making people ask what the family has done for them so far. “Recognition is fine, but where is the reward in the form of jobs, roads and education?” local youth ask.
Rahul’s victory, analysts say, might be certain but the alarm bells have been rung.