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Is the Gandhi magic disappearing from Amethi?

May 08, 2014 12:36 IST

Is the Gandhi magic disappearing from Amethi?

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com in Amethi

'It will be our misfortune if Rahul loses.'

'We taught Indira Gandhi a lesson and we brought her back too. Don't take us for granted. It doesn't matter what Priyanka says, we are not voting for her.'

For a constituency that has voted for the Nehrus time and again, little has changed on the ground. The people of Amethi tell Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com that they will vote for the Congress, but teach Rahul a lesson.

Amethi is perhaps the only constituency in India where its voters find reasons why the sitting Member of Parliament has NOT performed.

The state government is responsible for the poor roads -- funds for schools come from a Centre-state fund, not MPLAD funds -- there is a network of canals that supplies water to fields; BHEL, Indo-Gulf have set up factories in Amethi... they say. "You can't blame Rahul Gandhi for everything, you know!" they explain.

A senior journalist, who has lived in nearby Sultanpur for two generations, tells us of a saying that speaks of Amethi's past...

Jo phanse Amethi asar
Oke deu isar
(He who gets stuck in the wasteland of Amethi, will need another god to help them.)

Now, he says, there are two crops a year -- wheat and rice -- or three crops, if peppermint is grown. There is a primary school every two kilometres, albeit without teachers, and there are at least plans for industry.

Across Amethi, without exception, there are rumbles of revolt -- and of promises to teach Rahul a lesson -- but few will follow through. At least, they say, they belong to the Gandhi bastion. At least, they say, Amethi is known internationally.

So, here it is: As Amethi went to the polls, its voters say they will vote for Rahul, not because he is a Gandhi. But because he is a familiar face from a party that they are familiar with. Yes, they hope he will win, but with by a lesser margin.

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Image: Priyanka Gandhi arrives at Fauji Chauraha in Amethi.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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'Priyanka speaks well unlike Rahul's thanda speeches'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Humara na sahi, apna toh sunayegi... kuch nahin, ta-ta, bye-bye karke chali gaye (She may not hear us out, but neither did she say anything... she just waved goodbye and left)," says Shakti Singh as he and other men from Guleria village in Amethi's Jagdishpur district, watch Priyanka Gandhi's motorcade speed away. Most of the men wear Congress caps or scarves.

He acknowledges that Priyanka speaks well unlike Rahul's "thanda" (lacklustre) speeches. "I lose interest in a few minutes. He always looks angry, but woh toh dhong hai (it's fake). Both he and Soniaji will win, so if anyone should be angry it's us," adds Amritlal Tripathi, who sold his agricultural land to Indo Gulf Fertilisers in Jagdishpur.

"They gave us compensation for the land, but not jobs," adds Hari Singh, who says he is unemployed.

"It was a big mistake. We were promised subsidies in water, electricity, but nothing came our way. Whatever land I have left is too small to be viable," says Hari Singh.

A few men in the village work as labourers with BHEL and Indo Gulf Fertilisers for a salary of Rs 100 to Rs 150 per day, but it is less than what they made as farmers. "Only outsiders have got jobs in these factories," adds Singh, who is wearing a Congress cap.

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Image: People wait along the road for BJP candidate Smriti Irani's motorcade.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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'Rahul ko jhatka zaroor lagna chahiye, hum vote margin zaroor kam karenge'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Fifteen minutes later, Bharatiya Janata Party flags, caps and banners, replace the Congress colours on the men.

Smriti Irani, on her way to 32 chauraha meetings, has arrived. She stops, gets out of her car and speaks to the villagers for two minutes, promises development and leaves.

"See, that's what we expected of Priyankaji, but she didn't even give us time to speak! Hum toh sadiyon se Congressi hain (we have been voting for the Congress for years), so we won't vote for the BJP. It will be our misfortune if Rahul loses, thoda bahut jo hua hain woh bhi chala jayega (whatever little development has taken place, that too will disappear if the Congress loses)."

"Par jhatka zaroor lagna chahiye (but Rahul should get a shock), hum vote margin zaroor kam karenge (we will reduce the vote margin)." Rahul won by over 300,000 votes, a 70 per cent margin over the Bahujan Samaj Party's Asheesh Shukla in the 2009 general election.

"Priyankaji ruke, na ruke, pharak nahin padta (It makes no difference whether Priyanka stops), unhe toh vote nahin denge (we are not voting for her)," points out another man, "Gandhi hain, Gandhiji nahin."

The discontent has grown to a crescendo because there are candidates willing to hear their problems. While bijli, sadak, pani has eluded much of Amethi, unemployment, indifferent primary education and poor health-care facilities, upsets voters.

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Image: BJP candidate Smriti Irani meets voters at Fauji chauraha.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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'Didi jeete ya na jeete, Rahulji ko teen lakh vote ka margin nahin milega'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Both the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP have zeroed on the single biggest threat to their win -- the aura of dynasty and the 30-year connect that the Nehru family has with Amethi. Sanjay Gandhi, who lost the 1977 election, won the seat in 1980.

It is the personality, not the party, that is the single biggest challenge for both Smriti Irani of the BJP and Kumar Vishwas Sharma of the AAP.

Smriti goes for the jugular at her rally in Musafirkhana in Amethi. Reacting to Priyanka's jibe that she is an armchair politician, Smriti, a television actress, says, "I want to categorically say that whatever I am, I have made a space for myself in Indian politics and media out of my own perseverance and hard work. I have never lived off my family name (Baap ke naam ka istamal nahin kiya)."

A BJP worker at the rally says when Smriti first arrived a few weeks ago, there was no response from the people. "Now, the Congress is taking us very seriously. Didi (Smriti) speaks well, chutkula sunati hai Awadhi mein (she makes quips in the local dialect, Awadhi), and has campaigned vigorously in all five assembly segments," he says.

"Didi jeete ya na jeete, Rahulji ko teen lakh vote ka margin nahin milega (Whether Smriti wins or not, Rahul will not win by a 300,000 margin)," another party worker adds.

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Image: The BJP's Smriti Irani addresses a rally at Musafirkhana in Amethi.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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'Hum log majboori mein vote dete hain kyunki purani Congressi hain'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

The Aam Aadmi Party carpet-bombed Amethi with Kumar Vishwas Sharma holding rallies and nukkad meetings in 1,200 of the 1,256 gram sabhas. Rahul Gandhi has visited Amethi 150 times in the last 10 years, that's 15 visits a year and has failed to make an impact. "If you remove the Gandhi tag behind his name, he is not fit to become even a clerk anywhere," Sharma told Rediff.com

But 30-year-old habits are difficult to change. Almost everyone we spoke to say they are bitter about the lack of development in Amethi, but are bound to vote for Rahul Gandhi.

Sheshmari Singh, principal at the Ranchhor self-aided school in Amethi says, "You can't deny that it is only because of Rahul and the Gandhi family that Amethi is a name recognised internationally, but fame doesn’t fill your stomach."

The teachers in this school get paid between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000 per month, sometimes less, if students default in paying their fees. "You can't afford to be a teacher in a self-aided school unless you have another source of income. We all own land."

"Hum log majboori mein vote dete hain kyunki purani Congressi hain (We are bound to vote for the party because we have always remained faithful to the Congress). The problem is also that you start comparing development here to that of Rae Bareli. Bacha kucha jo rehte hain, woh Amethi ko mil jata hai, par milta toh hain (whatever is left comes to Amethi)," says Swami Prasad Gupta who teaches Science in the school.

Rahul Gandhi has spent only 53.68 per cent of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development funds allocated to him, as against Sonia Gandhi's 65.74 per cent.

"This school got funds from Rahul's MPLAD and we built 3 more classrooms. We also got six computers, but now none of the computers work and we don't have the money to repair them. It is not that he has done nothing, but he could have done more. I think the focus should be on employment generation. There is a pilot training institute (the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Academy) in Fursatganj, but few people in this area have the qualifications to apply for jobs. So, who benefits? Outsiders," says the principal.

On the Amethi-Sultanpur road, Bhairon Singh, 61, watches the world go by from his chair in the shade of his house, which is a couple of metres away from the Amethi-Sultanpur road.

He used to work as a civilian in the Indian Air Force and says people in Amethi have not benefitted from most of the developmental projects. The ordinance factory at Korwa, for instance, was set up in 2010, to manufacture NP bore revolvers and pistols.

"People who have sold their land to the factory have been absorbed as class IV staff. They get Rs 15,000 a month, more than what their fields would have earned them. But the jobs that really pay well go to engineers and none of them are from Amethi," he says.

"Par, hamara gala kat jaye, hum Rahul ko hi vote denge (Even if you threaten to chop off my head, I will still vote for Rahul)."

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Image: Sheshmari Singh, second from left, principal at the Ranchhor self-aided school in Amethi.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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'Rajiv Gandhi was a thinker, Rahul can't even think'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

In Alaipur village in the Tiloi assembly segment of Amethi, Sonu Singh (a farmer), Ram Kripal Singh (runs a pharmacy) and Beerbhal Singh (62, used to be a farmer) sit on charpoys as they sip chai.

Sonu, 25, says he and his father earn about Rs 50,000 in six months. He grows wheat and sells it at Rs 13.50 per kilo.

"It's a hard life. We wanted to repair our roof before the rains begins, but don't have the money," he says, pointing to the thatched roof on his kucchha house.

Beerbhal Singh remembers the time Rajiv Gandhi came to the village. "Rajivji had parked his jeep there," he says pointing to the road a few feet away. Rahul was playing in the jeep, he adds. "The maharani of Tiloi had put kajal on Priyanka's eyes and I think her eyes were smarting. It was a scorcher of an afternoon. Somebody pulled up a chair for Rajivji under the shade of a small tree, just enough cover for him."

"Rajivji got up after a few minutes and came and stood with us in the sun because there were elderly people standing in the sun. He showed us respect. That was the kind of person he was," says Singh.

"Unke soch badi thi. Rahul toh soch hi nahin sakta (He was a thinker, Rahul can't even think). He only sends his agents (party workers) here. Priyanka has come, he hasn't, not once in 10 years. We thought Rajiv's son would be like him, but he isn't," says Beerbhal Singh.

Rahul and Priyanka referred to their father and grandmother every time they addressed voters in an attempt to work the emotional chord. At a rally in Amethi last week, Rahul said, "I used to come here as a 12-year-old boy. My father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, used to speak to the people at similar functions. I used to watch from the sidelines. In 1991, my father died and stopped guiding me. Now the people of Amethi lead my way."

Ram Kripal Singh, who stays in Bhawani Nagar village at Tiloi, says he supports AAP's anti-corruption stance, but there was no point in giving votes to a party which would get less than 20 seats. "We don't know what kind of governance they will bring. If they had stayed in Delhi and shown us, we could have thought about it."

None of the villages we went to had any child named Rahul. There was a Raju (now 45) named after Rajiv Gandhi and even a Priyanka. "We had named my daughter Ankita, but she decided to change her name to Priyanka. She thinks Priyanka is very beautiful," says Singh and adds, "We taught Indira Gandhi a lesson (in 1977 when Raj Narain defeated her in Amethi) and we brought her back too. Don't take us for granted. It really doesn't matter what Priyanka says, we are not voting for her."

Salim, 19, has already made up his mind. He won't vote because he won't be in Amethi on May 7. He is off to Saudi Arabia to work as a JCB (crane) driver. "There is nothing left for me here," he says.


Image: Sonu Singh, a farmer, sits inside his kucchha house. He says he does not have enough money to repair his thatched roof before the rains.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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