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Amethi Misses Rahul Vs Smriti Contest

By Ruchika Chitravanshi
May 14, 2024 17:14 IST
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'If the Congress loses this time, Rahul Gandhi will not look back at Amethi ever again.'

IMAGE: Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yogi Adityanath with Smriti Irani, the BJP candidate in Amethi, May 12, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the rural expanses of Amethi district, nilgai, Asia's largest antelope, and other stray cattle graze leisurely on freshly harvested farmlands. To someone from India's sprawling metropolises, this scene might exude an exotic charm, but for local farmers, it's a nightmare in broad daylight.

In the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to poll on May 20, awaara or chutta pashu (stray cattle/animals) seem to be the biggest pain and complaint of the farming community. "My husband toils in the fields all day, only to spend the night guarding our land against these stray cattle," laments Seeta Devi of Korari Lachchan Shah village.

Over the past decade, the menace of stray cattle has forced farmers to abandon the cultivation of certain crops like pulses and peas. They argue that local gaushalas (cow shelters) are ill-equipped to handle the situation, lacking both the land to grow feed and the funds to purchase it.

For women, who constitute nearly half of total votes in Amethi, stray cattle troubles and the rising prices of food items are the most pressing election issues.

For men, the spectre of unemployment looms large. "Our boys are aimlessly wandering. No jobs have been created here," says Shiv Sharan Singh, a retired teacher.

These villagers, on a sultry summer afternoon, have been waiting for about an hour for the arrival of Congress candidate Kishorilal Sharma for a nukkad sabha (street meeting). Just a few days ago, Smriti Irani, Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, had addressed them from the same spot.

Amethi, known to be a Congress bastion, made way for Irani in the 2019 elections, giving her a victory over Rahul Gandhi with a margin of over 53,000 votes.

"Ladai zadarbast hai. Aur achchi kaante ki takkar hoti agar Rahul Gandhi khade hote (It was a tough battle and would have been a good contest had Rahul Gandhi contested this time)," says Pawan Kumar Jaiswal, a grocery shop owner near Amethi's Gauriganj, when asked about which way the winds of this Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha constituency are blowing.

This sentiment is echoed in most parts of Amethi, where people refer to Sharma as Gandhi's "doot" (ambassador). Upon his arrival for the nukkad sabha, Sharma clarifies: "I have no misconception. the Gandhi family is our strength."

Addressing a gathering of 150-odd people, Sharma recounts the years gone by when he worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the late prime minister and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi. "Earlier big leaders were respected even if they were from the Opposition. Today this is missing. Basic ethics of politics have gone," he says.

A non-Congress leader has never won the Amethi seat twice, a fact many Congress supporters here cite to stress that Sharma will win with big numbers.

However, Amarjeet Yadav, a milkman from Parsauli village, is confident that Irani will bag the seat. "Kishorilal has Rahul Gandhi behind him but Smriti Irani has the backing of the Centre. It is no small thing," says Yadav, ignoring his friends who keep asserting that he is a "Congressi".

Back in 2019, it was this village -- Parsauli -- that put out the slogan: 'Road nahi toh vote nahi' (No vote without a road). Soon, Rahul Gandhi got into action and got villagers their road.

This election, Jaiswal of Gauriganj says, would be make or break for Rahul Gandhi as far as Amethi goes. "If the Congress loses this time, he will not look back at Amethi ever again," he adds.

Many in Gauriganj feel that Narendra Modi needs to stay in power and their vote would be for him. Vijay Kumar, a corner shop owner, says Congress leaders have not visited the residents since the Amethi loss, while Irani has been a regular visitor.

"She has done work here. She will win," he stresses.

Irani has even constructed a house in Amethi, several residents point out.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at an election meeting in Amethi, May 13, 2024, for party candidate Kishori Lal Sharma. Photograph: ANI Photo

But driving down from the smooth national highways into the rugged, rough paths of the villages shows a different picture. Some 20 km from Gauriganj is the village Bhetua where people seem unhappy with the BJP.

"Roads are in bad condition. Stray cattle are a big problem; two women died after a bull attack here. They have funds for the Ram temple, but not to fix our woes," said Hari Mangal Singh, a medicine shop owner in Bhetua.

So why did Rahul Gandhi lose the seat? Singh offers his explanation: "Even he did not do any work. The Aam Aadmi Party did the anti-Congress campaign in 2019 and the BJP bore its fruits."

While people may not entirely be happy with either of the two parties, back in Korari Lachchan Shah women seem to have their priorities right.

They are busy collecting as many caps and sashes as they can collect from party workers who come there to campaign. Why? A woman explains: "Children will use these caps to cover their heads from the sun and we will make bena (hand fan) out of these. It is very handy in this heat."

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Ruchika Chitravanshi in Amethi
Source: source