Key players look for (s)mileage in Gandhis’ pocket borough
Rahul was a clear choice for Dilshad Khan and others like him in the Lok Sabha elections in Amethi. But things were different in the assembly elections and this time he hopes the alliance will give the people a clear option.Assembly Elections Updated: Feb 07, 2017 16:16 IST
Dilshad Khan, 40, a street vendor of sandals and slippers smiles outside a busy market here. His joy has nothing to do with any increase in sale volumes. Rather, he is happy to know about the crowds turning up at the joint roadshows and public meetings of his local MP Rahul Gandhi and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is also the Samajwadi Party (SP) national president.
Rahul was a clear choice for Dilshad Khan and others like him in the Lok Sabha elections in Amethi. But things were different in the assembly elections and this time he hopes the alliance will give the people a clear option. “The Congress has been out of power in the state for 27 years. People used to look at other options in the assembly elections as caste and local issues dominated the poll arena,” said Dilshad.
Others echo the same sentiments till arrival of cash at an ATM near Amethi railway station interrupts the discussion. A long queue is seen soon at the ATM. Suneet, an online trader, points towards the queue to make his point how his business has suffered following demonetisation.
“I have been made to suffer for no reason. I am not happy with the way things are now,” he said. Sunil Soni, a fruit vendor in Bachhrawan, a reserved assembly constituency in Rae Bareli, also talks about the people’s suffering.
“The BJP has been a party of the trading community. The people are openly venting their ire against the party following demonetisation. We have seen how people have been harassed and suffered financially in the past few months,” he said.
His observation came with a caution. “Demonetisation is working both ways. It’s evoking strong reactions from those who have been affected. But there is also a category of people who feel happy in the hope of long-term gains,” he said.
A visit to markets or villages of Amethi and Rae Bareli shows no political activity. Flags, posters or banners are hardly seen. Even in the past, posters and flags of non-Congress candidates were rarely seen in Amethi and Rae Bareli. A visit or two by a member of the Gandhi family used to suffice for high-pitched campaigning here.
The party won four out of five seats in Rae Bareli and all the five seats in Amethi in 1989. Much water has flown down the Ganga since then.
The party won no seat in Rae Bareli and only two seats in Amethi in the 2012 assembly election.
The Congress hopes to regain its glory through the alliance route now. The aspirations of partymen are high. The party has been under pressure to contest all the 10 assembly seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi. Union minister Smriti Irani lost the Lok Sabha election to Rahul Gandhi in 2014.
After the loss, the BJP has worked on its organisation. Known for its upper caste base, the party has focused more on backward classes, appointing Keshav Prasad Maurya as the new state president.
It also brought to the party fold Swami Prasad Maurya, once considered a close aide of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati. Irani has managed to get some tickets to the BJP leaders considered close to her.
This makes the BJP’s challenge to the Congress greater. “But we are sure, the Congress will do better in assembly elections this time,” said Rajesh Shukla, a Congress leader in Jais.
“The real test of the alliance will be in coordination at the grass roots,” he said.
Still, the Congress and Samajwadi Party candidates are face to face in a number of assembly constituencies.
“Despite initial hiccups, the alliance has worked out at the top level. It should work at the grass roots too,” said Shukla.
All eyes will now be on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is expected to begin campaigning in a few days. She is likely to devote a day to every assembly constituency of Rae Bareli and Amethi.
“Like always, Priyanka’s campaigning will help us immensely. We are sure of winning all the seats this time,” said a veteran party leader.
But many believe that anti-incumbency will be at work against the SP candidates on the three seats that the ruling party will contest in Rae Bareli and Amethi.
They feel Priyanka should avoid campaigning on SP seats.
“Strong public anger is visible against Manoj Pandey, UP minister and SP candidate from Unchahar assembly constituency of Rae Bareli,” said JP Tripathi, a former teacher at HN Inter College, Unchahar.
Another minister Gayatri Prajapati is a Samajwadi Party MLA from Amethi. But the focus may be on the two ‘Ranis’ (queens) of the Amethi royal house. The BJP has already announced the candidature of Rani Garima Singh, former wife of Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP ‘Raja’ Sanjay Singh.
From the Congress side, it is expected that Sanjay Singh’s wife and former MLA Amita Singh will counter Garima Singh’s campaign even if she does not contest an election this time.