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|September 4, 1999||
Sonia's likely candidature gives Sanjay Singh something to worry about
Sharat Pradhan in Amethi, Rae Bareli
Even though the Congress has yet to formally announce its candidate for Amethi, Sanjay Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party nominee, is literally sweating it out.
A former protégé of both Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi and the scion of the former princely state of Amethi, Sanjay Singh switched loyalties to the saffron brigade before the last Lok Sabha election. He wrested the seat from Satish Sharma, who had earlier bagged it, essentially as a custodian of the Gandhi family following Rajiv's assassination. Thanks to Sharma's feudal ways, the Congress lost the seat in 1998, for the first time since 1980.
Sonia's nomination from Bellary surely brought a sigh of relief to Sanjay Singh, who was looking forward to another contest with an even weaker Sharma. But Sharma's candidature for the neighbouring Rae Bareli constituency, has renewed his apprehensions. Subsequent declarations by Congress leaders in Delhi about Sonia's plans to contest the Amethi seat as well have begun to give him cause for worry.
Singh has been camping in Amethi for nearly three weeks along with his high profile second wife Amita Modi. The couple has been moving door to door in a bid to strike a chord with voters in this constituency.
A former Maharashtra badminton player, Amita is projecting herself as the "real bahu" of this essentially rural borough. Head covered under a traditional saree, with a big bindi dutifully pasted on the forehead, and with folded hands, she moves around the slushy lanes and bylanes of villages across the constituency, seeking support for her husband.
While she projects herself as a commoner, locals claim she likes to be called "Rani Sahiba". "This Raj Mahal of Amethi is not ours," she tells voters, "It is for you, the people of Amethi; everything that we have is yours."
However, these sentiments don't cut ice with Ram Pyari, a local vegetable seller. "She wants us to treat her as a Rani. Usually, one can't think of getting an audience with her; and now she says the palace is for the common man."
There are others who talk about the mass marriages she has performed in some parts of Amethi. "We are aware of the kind of funding she receives for this purpose from the social welfare department and other organisations; and we have also seen what and how she spends on these occasions," observed a school teacher, who prefers not to be named.
Evidently, there is nothing beyond these community marriages that Amita can boast of on behalf of her hubby, who has apparently failed to do what he could have for the constituency's development. Despite being a member of the ruling party, Sanjay apparently did little to revive numerous industrial units set up in Rajiv Gandhi's time, only to be abandoned or neglected after his assassination.
Locals say Amita's much-publicised social work in Amethi is not a patch on Sonia Gandhi's contribution to her husband's constituency, both as the then prime minister's wife and later as his widow. "What Amita is trying now had been done all along by Soniaji for the people of this place," points out Naseer Jais. "She has been helping people out right from 1980, when she first set her foot in Amethi, and would join her husband on every visit."
Others recall how Rajiv and Sonia would drive down from village to village, mix with the poorest of poor. "We neither had that kind of access to Satish Sharma nor with Sanjay Singh and Amita," observed Gaya Prasad, a farmer.
"If Sonia had contested last time, there was no chance of Sanjay Singh winning," claimed a Congress worker who is sore about Sonia's decision to contest from Bellary. That is the only thing which seems to go against Sonia; and to that extent provides Sanjay Singh a with handle to tell voters, "See, if Sonia Gandhi had any sincerity towards you, she would have not have chosen a constituency 2,000 miles away."
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