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Do the Gandhis see a threat to their bastions?

April 20, 2014 15:23 IST

Does India’s first political family see some serious threat to its own bastions? The question was doing rounds in Uttar Pradesh, where lie Rae Bareli and Amethi -- the respective parliamentary constituencies of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president son Rahul Gandhi. Sharat Pradhan reports

Anxiety and worry is writ large on the faces of the mother and son, for whom elections in these two places have always been just a cakewalk. While the worry may not be about any fear of losing to their newfound contenders, the anxiety is all about thinning of the huge margins the family is used to in the pocket-burrows they have monopolised for decades.

In fact, what had sent alarm bells ringing was the heavy losses suffered by the Congress at the 2012 state assembly elections in both these parliamentary seats. The party lost in four of the five assembly segments in Rae Bareli and three of the five in Amethi.

Yet , it is not Rae Bareli that is giving sleepless nights to the family. The contest in Rae Bareli is only for namesake on account of a non-entity called Ajay Agrawal being fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party against Sonia. A nondescript Supreme Court lawyer, Agrawal  is nothing beyond an opportunist who has exploited his flirtations with different political parties over the past few years.

On the contrary, Rahul appears to be confronted with more serious players in Kumar Vishwas of the Aam Aadmi Party and Smriti Irani of the BJP. While Kumar has stuck to his word and kept himself perched in Amethi for more than a month, Irani, despite being a late starter is also following course ever since he was tipped as the BJP nominee.

Her delayed entry into the fray is well compensated by the Narendra Modi effect, that may not be as pronounced in the Gandhi bastions as in other parts of the sprawling state, whose 80 Lok Sabha seats were bound to play a crucial role in determining the destiny of the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee.

If Kumar had succeeded in tapping that element who were disillusioned with Rahul because they felt neglected, Irani was banking largely on the Modi effect. A satire poet with wide recognition, Kumar’s gift of the gab was his key strength to strike chord with the man on the street of Amethi.

However, Irani’s ‘ideal bahu – Tulsi’ image built through the prolonged TV soap, seems to have faded from the minds of the electorate. But she gets all the accolades as a nominee of Modi, whose name seems to spell more magic than that of BJP in most parts of UP.

Sure enough, that is enough cause of worry for the Gandhi clan . After all, they cannot see even a marginal loss of face for Rahul, whom Sonia had left no stone unturned to be projected as her potential successor and the eventual custodian of the Congress party.

No wonder, therefore, his mother and sister have taken turns to give him the much needed shot in the arm . For the first time in 10 years, Sonia chose to fly down to Amethi to campaign for her son. And it was not just a routine campaign. She went beyond to literally plead before the electorate whom she sought to even remind of her husband Rajiv Gandhi, who made his debut in politics from that soil.

He path was not without an initial hurdle in the form of a high-velocity storm that blew away everything at the venue off Gauriganj. The winds making it impossible for her to land at the makeshift helipad, compelled her to touch down at the IndiraGandhiFlyingAcademy in Fursatganj , from where she had to take a 60-km long  bumpy ride to the venue.

What followed was an emotional appeal -- “Following the footsteps of my mother-in-law Indira Gandhi who gave you her son Rajiv in 1980, I gave you my son in 2004. Do look after him now.”

Invoking Rajiv, she said, “I am reminded of the days when you all elected Rajiv and made him prime minister.” And while recalling Rajiv’s contribution towards building a modern India, she went on to add, “It is therefore that Amethi’s role in the nation’s development can never be ignored.”

She also went about enumerating the projects initiated by Rahul for Amethi’s development. “Other than the exemplary work Rahul had done to empower women through setting up of multiple women self-help groups, he was also responsible for the creation of a mega food park which will not only benefit at least 40,000 farmers of this region but also generate employment for the youth here”, she pointed out.

Priyanka too left no stone unturned to invoke the family while seeking support for Rahul. Using her charismatic appeal, which the locals relate quite strikingly to her grandmother, Priyanka went a step further by also training her guns at Modi and his “divisive” politics.

After spending two days in Amethi, she flew back to Delhi , but is all set to return soon to push her brother’s case with the electorate which seems to be partially drifting away to other options -- perhaps for the first time in many years.

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow