Glaring contrasts in various spheres in this Nehru-Gandhi family pocket borough are being raised by the rivals to target Congress President Sonia Gandhi for lop-sided development in the constituency from where she is seeking a fourth term.
The town has top educational institutes but lacks teachers in primary schools, four National Highways but highly dilapidated and non-motorable roads -- these are some of the instances of skewed progress in this historical part of Awadh region where over 14 lakh electors are eligible to vote on April 30.
"You will find deep-potholed roads. They are in a highly dilapidated condition and not at all motorable. If you go to villages, you find most of the houses are built of mud and clay," BJP candidate Ajay Agrawal says.
Rae Bareli has the third Rail coach factory in the country established at a cost of around Rs 2,700 crore, but the subdued job scenario is driving many youths in search of livelihood elsewhere, say political rivals of Sonia.
However, Congress leaders are undeterred by the criticism and exude confidence that Sonia will secure the seat for the fourth straight time.
Congress leader Dinesh Singh, says, "Sonia-ji is not fighting any candidate here. She is fighting her own margin. We are confident that it will increase."
When Sonia first contested the seat in 2004, she won with a vote share of of 58.75 per cent. In 2006 after having resigned following the office-of-profit controversy, she was re elected in by-elections with a vote share of 72 per cent. She maintained the lead with a vote share of 72.23 per cent in 2009.
Criticising Sonia for her development track record, BSP candidate Pravesh Singh says, "There is acute problem of irrigation in Sareni block of the district. Canal water does not reach here. Besides problems of drinking water and bad roads are everywhere."
BJP's Aggarwal, however, says that SP candidates won in 2012 Assembly election here as people were angry with BSP. He believes this time he will get anti-Congress votes as there a "Modi storm" in Rae Bareli and "times have changed".
The constituency, which boasts of top educational and skill development institutes like National Institute of Fashion Technology, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology and Footwear Design and Development Institute, also suffers from below national average literacy.
The All India literacy rate, according to 2011 census, is 82.14 per cent for men and 65.46 for women, but in Rae Bareli, it was 79.39 per cent for males and 58.06 per cent for females.
While regular grueling power cuts in areas 5 km outside the city periphery is not a major election issue, rivals point out that over 800 small and medium sized factories closed down in last 10 years. Almost of half of the big ones were also shut down, they claim.
Mindful of the discontent over poor civic amenities in the district and the Opposition parties attempt to exploit it, Congress star campaigner for Rae Bareli Priyanka Gandhi has been doing her bit to allay concerns.
Priyanka has been telling people in her public meetings that while the Centre gave funds for construction of the NH and installed electric poles and wires, repair and upkeep of roads as well as supply of power are the state government's responsibility.
Besides, there is no Congress government in Uttar Pradesh for over two decades, she points out.
Though BJP won this seat only twice for a brief spell between 1996 and 1999, Narendra Modi is in talk at tea stalls even as the saffron party is perceived to have fielded a "lightweight" candidate.
Outside Bhuemau Guest House, where Gandhi family stays during Rae Bareli visit, an enthused BJP supporter loudly proclaims his support for Modi.
Most of the people say that there is no actual contest in the seat and Sonia's victory is certain in this seat which has largely remained a Congress stronghold ever since Feroze Gandhi, son in-law of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, won the seat in 1957.
Kayasths and Manihar, who were masters of the town for a considerable period of time, have lost significance. It's now an OBC-dominated constituency.
Samajwadi Party, which has a formidable presence among OBCs, has not fielded a candidate from the seat this time. SP won in four of the five Assembly segments in Rae Bareli in 2012 Assembly elections.
SP was the runner up in four consecutive Lok Sabha elections here -- in 1998, when BJP won the seat and in 1999, 2004 and 2006, when Congress won the seat. In 2009, a BSP candidate was the runner up when Gandhi made a hat-trick from Rae Bareli as she won with a whopping margin of 3.72 lakh.
BJP's Ashok Singh had won the seat twice in 1996 and 1998.
In 2006, BJP's Hindutva leader Vinay Katiyar, a prominent OBC face of the party contested against Gandhi and failed to make an impact. BJP did not get more 30,000 votes in last 3 elections.
This time the party had initially tried to field former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharti considering her stature and her OBC credentials from the seat, where Lodhs have a good presence. However, Bharti declined saying she will not leave Jhansi constituency.
Aam Aadmi Party had fielded Justice Fakhruddin but he pulled out from the race at the last moment. He was a judge of the Madhya Pradesh high court for 12 years and also its acting chief justice for some time. Social activist Archana Srivastav is now the AAP candidate.
The constituency has age-old ties with the Nehru-Gandhi family and after Feroz Gandhi, Indira Gandhi won from the seat thrice in 1967, 1971 and 1980. 1977 was an exception, when Indira lost it to Lok Dal's Rajnarayan in the post Emergency anti-Congress wave.
After winning the seat in 1980, Indira had resigned from it and retained the other seat Chikamagarlur in Karnataka, which she had won in 1978 after losing from Rae Bareli a year before.
Political observers refer to another reason why Sonia keeps winning the seat, which Indira Gandhi had lost in 1977.
"After Indira Gandhi, who was apparently unhappy over people rejecting her in 1977, left the constituency in 1980 even after winning it, Rae Bareli lost its national status for two decades, though distant relatives of the family like Arun Nehru and Sheila Kaul represented it twice each.
"People had immediately realised their mistake and that is why in the Assembly elections that followed Lok Sabha polls in 1977, Congress had won in all five assembly seats here, though it lost badly in Uttar Pradesh winning only 32 seats," claims a senior lawyer of Rae Bareli, Amresh Chandra Srivastava.
"Till Sonia Gandhi contested the seat in 2004 and won it, Rae Bareli was out of national discourse. So, once the Gandhi family was back in the constituency, people clutched on to them. After having cut off from the national mainstream between 1980 and 2004, people do not want to repeat it," he further claims.
Srivastava, who was part of the Congress team, which had organised Indira Gandhi's first meeting on September 14, 1966, however, admits that basic development needs of the city have been ignored.
"There is no proper drinking water in villages, the condition of primary education is bad and there is acute corruption in implementation of schemes like MNREGA and mid-day meal," he says but insists Sonia will win.
Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi