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Will Raebareli Also Go The Amethi Way?

May 16, 2024 07:46 IST

'Sonia did not visit this place once since she won. Who's to say they won't lose this one, too?

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addresses a nukkad sabha in Raebareli, May 9, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

As she takes the microphone to address a vast assembly under the scorching sun in Raebareli's Gurubakshganj, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra begins by apologising for her hoarse voice. It's understandable -- for the past few weeks, she has been stationed in this Lok Sabha constituency, holding nukkad sabhas (neighborhood gatherings) throughout the day as part of election campaign.

Dressed in a grey cotton salwaar kameez and white trainers, Priyanka seeks vote for her bhaiyya, Rahul Gandhi, as she has been doing for the past several days. "He is the only leader to have undertaken a paidal yatra (journey on foot) of 4,000 kilometres from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. You will not find a better representative," she declares.

But this time Rahul is also accompanying his sister in the Raebareli campaign. As he makes his way to the dais amid cheering and a dance performance, the senior Congress leader extols the multiple decades-long relationship between his family and Raebareli. He soon turns his attention to the Adani-Ambani issue, accusing them of controlling the media and monopolising the country's wealth under Narendra Modi's 'raj'.

Replacing his mother Sonia Gandhi on the EVM, Rahul chose to contest from Raebareli, known to be a Congress stronghold, and not from Amethi following his defeat there in the 2019 elections -- something that Bharatiya Janata Party workers and supporters here keep pointing out.

"Gadh to unka Amethi bhi tha (Amethi was the Congress's stronghold, too). But they lost it. Sonia did not visit this place once since she won. She could not even spend her honorarium. Who's to say they won't lose this one, too?" says Pramod Mishra, a BJP worker in Raebareli, while attending a Yogi Adityanath rally in the Lalganj area.

As young men holding lotus banners and flags march shouting "Jai Shri Ram", the BJP's poll pitch is quite clear. A Congressman until 2018, Dinesh Pratap Singh -- a minister in the Adityanath government -- is the BJP's repeat candidate from Raebareli. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Singh contested against Sonia Gandhi and lost by nearly 160,000 votes, despite receiving 38 per cent of total votes.

Dinesh Kumar, a driver from Maharajganj village who has ferried a BJP leader, expresses his dissatisfaction with the current government. "No work has been done here," he laments.

But Mishra quickly interjects. He enumerates the BJP's contributions -- ration, awaas (housing), shauchalay (toilets), and the Ram Mandir -- that could potentially tilt the scales in the party's favour.

However, staunch Congress supporters have a different assertion. Anuj Trivedi, a cement trader in Aihar village, asserts: "As long as a Gandhi stands from here, the Congress will win." He credits most of Raebareli's development to the Congress.

The discourse here revolves around who has contributed to the development of this place. The older generation fondly recalls the network of highways and factories established during Indira Gandhi's tenure.

Vinod Kumar, a mason from a nearby village, reminisces: "In 1977, she (Indira Gandhi) lost to Raj Narain but then won the following election. Now, the question isn't whether Congress will win, but the margin of its victory."

While Sonia Gandhi won the Raebareli seat from 2004 to 2019, her margins of victory were reduced in the past two elections. In 2009, she secured 72.73 per cent of total votes polled, which later declined to 63.80 per cent in 2014 and stood at 55.78 per cent in 2019.

The locals acknowledge the Congress's role in establishing the Modern Rail Coach Factory. However, they express disappointment over its failure to generate local employment, except for the farmers whose land was acquired for the factory. A visit to the under-construction Ganga Expressway reveals a workforce comprising migrants from West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha with hardly any local representation.

IMAGE: Senior BJP leader Amit A Shah with Dinesh Pratap Singh, the party's Raebareli nominee, at an election meeting in Raebareli, May 12, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

A group of women, several of them past 60 years, resting under the shade of an oil press, recall voting for everyone who stood from the Gandhi family over the years.

Fulvasa, a 65 year old from Beenjh village, is undecided this time. She hints at voting for the BJP, saying: "I am getting some pension, free ration. Even if we vote for Gandhi, the rule is Modi's."

Devendra Singh, the owner of the oil press in Garhi Dularai, chimes in: "I voted for Sonia Gandhi last time, but will not in this election. People are unhappy that she hasn't visited even once after winning.

Many locals feel that Raebareli has been neglected by the Centre. Despite the opening of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences here, they complain about the reduction in the number of beds from the originally planned 1,000 to 300.

"Yogi (Adityanath) also shifted the medical college from Raebareli to Gorakhpur," says Shailendra Tripathi, a farmer from Aihar village.

Like in many other UP villages, the major issue for farmers in Raebareli is the menace of stray animals destroying their crops. Trivedi describes it as a "ghanghor samasya (very serious problem)."

"Can't sow a single seed. You go home after work and we have to go back to the farm."

Ruchika Chitravanshi in Raebareli
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