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Will Rahul Gandhi lose in Amethi?

May 07, 2014 09:52 IST

Will Rahul Gandhi lose in Amethi?

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Sharat Pradhan

Walking around Amethi barely gives the feel of a VVIP constituency. Could years of neglect cost the Gandhi Parivar its bastion? Sharat Pradhan finds out.

Can Congress candidate Rahul Gandhi lose what has been his family's political bastion for three decades?

What appears increasingly visible is that Rahul is in for a shock -- any drastic fall in his 2009 winning margin of 370,000 votes would mean a devastating moral defeat for the leader who described Amethi as his 'second home'.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi, the Congress candidate, at a roadshow in Amethi.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress Party

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Sharat Pradhan

"People in Amethi don't get potable drinking water, the roads are bad, health services are pathetic and power supply is rarely available for more than 6 to 8 hours in a day" is a common complaint heard in every part of the VVIP constituency.

Locals may not have voiced their anger all these years because they were content on account of their association with the country's first family.

Rahul's visits to Amethi helped consolidate this notion, which made the Nehru family complacent about the needs of voters.

The first voice of dissent was raised by Aam Aadmi Party candidate Kumar Vishwas Sharma whose candidature was announced some three months ago.

The Congress took the vociferous Sharma lightly initially. But when he parked himself in a rented home in Amethi and started going door to door, the Nehrus began to rise from their deep political slumber.

Sharma was booed and rebuked, undaunted he refused to relent.

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Image: Aam Aadmi Party nominee Kumar Vishwas Sharma.
Photographs: Courtesy Kumar Vishwas Sharma's personal Web site

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Will Rahul Gandhi lose in Amethi?

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Sharat Pradhan

Sonia Gandhi, who has never felt the need to campaign in her son's constituency, zoomed in.

Sister Priyanka started camping in Amethi for longer periods.

While AAP leaders, including Arvind Kejriwal, blasted the Nehrus, the Modi brigade -- with television actress-turned-politician Smriti Irani the BJP candidate -- used their arsenal to attack Rahul with sudden vigour.

Irani convinced the Gujarat chief minister to campaign in Amethi. Modi's hour-long presence on Monday has had the desired mesmerising impact.

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Image: Congress Sonia Gandhi addresses an election rally.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress Party

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Sharat Pradhan

To arrest the tide of resentment against her brother, Priyanka invoked memories of their late father Rajiv Gandhi who represented Amethi from August 1981 to his death.

Unlike his brother Sanjay Gandhi -- who lost Amethi in 1977, but won it in January 1980 and spoke about 'converting Amethi into London' -- Rajiv, even after becoming prime minister, did not make tall promises that he would not be able to fulfil.

Instead, he concentrated on building infrastructure -- largely focused on creation of a network of roads and a well laid out irrigation system to quench the thirst of vast stretches of barren land.

He also tried to bring in industry and set up units of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Hindustan Aeronautics and Indo-Gulf Fertiliser besides roping in investors to establish small and medium-level industrial enterprises.

His assassination in May 1991 left a void which the family could not fill. After giving Rahul a very long rope -- he has represented Amethi since 2004 -- voters have begun to question his performance.

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Image: Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi at a roadshow in Amethi.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress Party

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Sharat Pradhan

"Whatever you see here in the name of development was done by Rajiv Gandhiji who was truly concerned about us," says Bal Krishna Patel in Jamo town.

A staunch supporter of the Nehru family until recently, he does not hesitate to vent his anger against Rahul.

"I will vote for anyone, but not for Rahul who needs to learn a lesson," he adds.

Another former Congress supporter Ram Kuber Tripathi feels, "Rahul failed us on every promise he made."

What I saw in this part of Amethi is shocking.

The Community Health Centre, which is the only hope for medical assistance for the 15,000-odd people of the town, looks worse than a godown.

Two doctors, two nurses and three ward boys are meant to handle a daily rush of between 100 and 150 patients who rarely get medicines from the ill-equipped centre.

"Rahulji has never found the time to even spare five minutes to see this centre," complains Arvind Srivastava who runs a tiny mobile repairing shop in the neighbourhood.

The hospital in the district headquarters at Gauriganj looks no better.

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Image: Rahul listens to a party worker speak in Amethi.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress Party

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Sharat Pradhan

"The Congress party has erected a high-class guest house, specially for the Gandhi family, inside the party office, but they cannot ensure basic amenities in the local hospital," laments commerce graduate Suresh who wonders why Rahul has never thought of creating employment generation activity in Amethi.

Fruit-seller Hafiz Rafiq says, "Rahul has been a disappointment; he is not a patch on his father."

Mohammad Samir, a first-time voter in Jafarganj, says: "If Rahulbhaiyya had taken some initiative to develop Amethi, my father would not have had to go all the way to Gujarat in search of employment. He had to leave a comfortable job and rush back here after the 2002 riots. Today we are just trying to make our ends meet by running a tailoring shop in this village."

"Still I would vote for Rahul to let him know that we do not wish to give up," Samir adds..

Mohamad Salim, a meat seller, blames Rahul for "poor education facilities" in Jafarganj.

"We are a joint family with some 20 children in the house and none go to school," says Salim, "because the quality of education in the local government school is extremely poor with just one teacher. We can't afford the expensive private school."

"We would not vote for anyone this time."

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Image: Rahul Gandhi interacts with women voters.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress Party

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Sharat Pradhan

Such anger against him notwithstanding, it is not as if Rahul has no admirers.

But these are limited to committed party workers and those who hail him for "connecting Amethi to six national highways, for putting up computer training centres in all pockets of the constituency and for working actively on the setting up of a food processing hub."

Rahul's most talked about contribution has been his efforts to create women self-help groups as a part of his women empowerment mission.

Even his critics admit that during his many visits to Amethi, Rahul spent most of his time with these self-help groups -- many of whom successfully provide micro-financing to enterprising rural women.

There is no denying that 2009 will not be repeated in Amethi this time. Whether 1977 -- when Sanjay Gandhi was defeated by Ravindra Pratap Singh -- will be replayed will not be known till the EVMs are unlocked on May 16.


Image: Rahul Gandhi interacts with women voters.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress Party

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