Sheela Bhatt in Amethi
Some New Delhi political pundits were startled by Sheela Bhatt's reportage on Priyanka Gandhi's campaign and how her celebrated charisma had failed to make an impact in the villages of Amethi.
If you missed Part 1 of Sheela Bhatt's reportage, please read: Campaigning with Priyanka: Problems in the family borough
On February 6, along with Ameeta Singh, the Congress candidate from the Amethi assembly constituency, Priyanka Gandhi begins her election yatra at around 11.30 am.
In the first two villages -- Bhusyawan and Maderika -- hardly a hundred villagers gather. The meetings are on the roadside so the audience consists of bystanders and children.
By the time Priyanka arrives in Amaye Mafi village, most local reporters begin to murmur about the absence of a response from her audience.
I am surprised to discover that Priyanka gives unimpressive speeches. It is as if she is fulfilling a 'duty.' Political passion is clearly absent.
Please look at this video.
By 4 pm, in Tikarmafi village, Priyanka is so defensive that while addressing an audience of around 200 people, she says, "Iss chunav main nahin to humein agle chunav main bal milega (If not in the current election, we will be strengthened in the next election)."
Then, she adds, "Hamari dadi, par dada, dada, pitaji, mataji ka aap se rishta bana hua hai. Lekin yeh chunav aap ke bare main hai. (My grandmother, great-grandfather, grandfather, father and mother had a bond with you. But this election is all about you). Rahul kahte hai main nattije ke liye nahin vote ke liye nahin, satta ke liye nahin aap ke liye kam karunga. (Rahul Gandhi, her brother, says he is not working for the end result, neither is he working for votes nor for power, but he will work for you.)"
'Kamal hai kichad ka'
In Tikarmafi, Priyanka Gandhi gives a slightly emotional speech which creates some impact. On all public platforms, she delivers more or less the same speech that all politicians are compelled to give. In her speeches, Priyanka does not mention the local issues that concern villagers.
On the dais, her rapport with Congress candidate Ameeta Singh -- the wife of the Member of Parliament from Sultanpur, Sanjay Singh -- is clearly non-existent.
One villager in Tikarmafi tells me, "Kamal hai kichad ka."
What he probably means is that like a lotus blooms in muddy waters and remains untouched by the dirt, Priyanka remains untarnished by her surroundings.
The central focus of her speeches is: "Recognise your strength. How long will you tolerate bad governance? In the last 22 years, you have seen the politics of religion and caste. When they got power, they simply forgot you. You can get wholesome development too. How long will you tolerate it?"
And before concluding her speech, she always adds, "When you vote for Ameeta Singh, you are strengthening Rahul Gandhi."
At Priyanka's election rallies, Congressmen are asked only to bring marigold garlands. These garlands are collected on top of her car. Priyanka wears two, three garlands throughout the day. She seems to have a perfect understanding of how still and video cameras move and what they want.
She readily agrees to halt at an appropriate point to facilitate media crews. She takes care of hardworking small-time reporters by giving them at least one sound byte a day.
Rahul is much more inaccessible than Priyanka
The local media, particularly reporters and camera crews from the television channels, love to follow Priyanka.
Alok Srivastava, who has been covering Priyanka's visits to Amethi for the last seven years or so for the Aaj Tak television channel, remembers how she once granted him an exclusive interview.
"She is very cooperative," says Srivastava. "She knows the importance of giving bytes to TV cameramen. She is without airs."
Priyanka's car is driven by the Gandhi family's most trusted aide Pandit Kishorilal Sharma, a Kashmiri settled in Amethi. He is Priyanka's eyes and ears. Sharma -- who you can see in the first slide of this feature alongside Priyanka Gandhi and Ameeta Singh -- decides who should meet the Gandhis when they visit the area.
Many local Congressmen tell me that Rahul is much more inaccessible than Priyanka while he visits Amethi. People are less afraid of Priyanka. They say they candidly share the real issues of the area with Priyanka whenever they meet her.
Obviously, disgruntled Congressmen blame Sharma for their woes and think he blocks information to Priyanka and her brother.
Outside the Munshiganj guest house Rajeev Singh, a local Congress leader, tells me that local Congressmen are determined not to help Ameeta Singh win this election.
Singh explains that Amethi has 56,000 Brahmin voters, 42,000 Thakur, 18,000 Muslim, 60,000 Dalit and 90,000 Other Backward Class voters.
In New Delhi, analysts believe the Nehru pocket borough is above caste and religion, but here, Jagdish Piyush, a staunch loyalist of the family, tells me, "Rahul Gandhi Brahmin hain."
Piyush edits Amethi Samachar and has known the family for about 30 or 40 years. He has written many books on the Nehrus, praising them to the skies, and has added to the branding process so that the Amethi-Rae Bareli-Sultanpur belt remains a pocket borough of the Nehru family.
'Priyankaji ka mood aaj accha nahin tha'
Journalists look out for Jagdish Piyush and Kishorilal Sharma as soon as they arrive in Amethi. Piyush defends Priyanka's lacklustre meetings this election, arguing, "Sometimes due to the candidate's inabilities one may not be able to collect crowds. Maybe, Priyankaji ka mood aaj accha nahin tha. (Maybe, Priyanka was not in a good mood today.)"
Priyanka has reason to be disturbed. The same day, her husband Robert Vadra, while campaigning close by, tells journalists that he is willing to enter politics.
Vadra adds that Priyanka will enter politics at the right time, and it is now Rahul's time.
Without much ado, Priyanka underplays the brewing controversy, saying, "I know my husband. He is happy in his business."
Pradip Tripathi, a reporter for Dainik Jagran, the widely circulated newspaper, lives in Amethi. "Iss baar Priyanka ka jaadu nahin chala (Priyanka's magic has not worked this time)," says Tripathi.
"She is unable to do much because Congress MPs and MLAs from this area have not worked for the people," he adds. "They have neither created employment opportunities for young people nor have they found a solution to education and health-related issues."
"Sadke bani lekin sadke banane maincommission-chori hui! (Roads were built, but lots of corruption took place)," alleges Tripathi. "After a year, the roads are potholed and we are back to square one. Almost 80 percent of Amethi lives in the villages, but they don't get fertilisers on time. There is a shortage of seeds always."
"Amethi town feels lucky if it gets electricity for 8 hours a day. Usually, we get electricity for less than 6 hours. The tank supplying drinking water is under construction, so we face a drinking water shortage these days," Tripathi points out.
Jawaharlal Nehru, Priyanka's great-grandfather, led a farmers' agitation from Amethi and Rae Bareli in 1921. After what is known as the Munshiganj firing, Motilal Nehru sent young Jawaharlal from Anand Bhavan, the family home in Allahabad, to pacify the farmers protesting against exploitation by local talukdars (landowners).
The then raja of Amethi was one of the celebrated lawyer Motilal Nehru's clients.
Jawaharlal, who was just 32, gave his first political speech in Rae Bareli. Since then the Rae Bareli-Amethi-Sultanpur belt has been under the spell of the Nehru family.
'We have no clue what Rahul Gandhi is doing for us'
Indira Gandhi attended Mahatma Gandhi's salt movement here as a teenager, along with her mother Kamala Nehru and grandfather Motilal Nehru, on April 8, 1930. It was her first contact with Rae Bareli which later became her Lok Sabha constituency.
Feroz Gandhi, Priyanka's grandfather, won the 1952 Lok Sabha election from Rae Bareli. He represented it till his death in 1960. Indira Gandhi represented Rae Bareli from the 1967 general election onwards.
Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have made Amethi famous in India's electoral politics.
But in village after village, we encounter stories of failed dreams.
In Tikarmafi, more than 200 people gather to listen to Priyanka. Here, thanks to the efforts of the Gandhi family, an Indian Institute of Information Technology has been set up.
Three years ago, Rahul Gandhi helped the area when the Steel Authority of India took over the Malavika steel plant for Rs 209 crore (Rs 2.09 billion). It is spread over 740 acres of land, but neither has the land issue been settled nor have villagers got the promised jobs in the steel factory yet. Still, SAIL's presence has certainly given confidence to the local people.
I approach three youngsters standing near the barricades of Priyanka's meeting in Tikarmafi. They are enjoying the show, shouting "Priyanka Gandhi zindabad!"
One of them asks, "Sister, are you from the Congress?"
When I tell them I am a reporter, Mahesh Singh cautiously reveals his name. His allegiance is to the Samajwadi Party, but he has joined the chorus today because local Congressmen requested him to do so.
"In Tikarmafi," he says, "A few roads were built after many decades, but so much corruption occurred that their quality suffered. There are no approach roads to the villages. We don't get power for 18 hours a day. No Congressmen listens to our problems of unavailability of fertilisers and seeds. Rahul Gandhi is giving us an IIIT, but we are uneducated. We have no clue what he is doing for us."
A local journalist, who overhears this conversation, adds that after reporting the 2007 assembly election from Amethi, his car needed repairs worth Rs 20,000 because of the bad roads in the constituency!
In neighbouring Jagdishpur, and elsewhere in Amethi and Rae Bareli, the youngsters say, people repeatedly vote for the Gandhi family because of Rajiv Gandhi.
"We can't afford to see them lose," says one of the boys, "in our region land spread over many tehsils, totaling over 2,500 acres, was taken over by the government from farmers and given to industrialists during Rajiv Gandhi's time. They promised that 300 industries would open in our towns and villages."
'People vote for Sonia and Rahul only because we want it to remain a VVIP constituency'
"Our parents fully trusted Rajiv Gandhi," the boys say. "Rajivji said we will get muavza, naukri (compensation, jobs) in the industries that would thrive on our farmland. It is our bad luck that he died early and industrialists broke those promises."
"We hope the Gandhi family will give us our land back. We will keep voting for them if they get us our land back."
Jagdish Piyush, the Nehru family loyalist, agrees with the view that the land occupied during Rajiv Gandhi's time is an issue. The farmers, he says, are "asking for revision of compensation because the times have changed. They want more money."
In the villages, many young people complain that the avionics division of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the Indo-Gulf Fertilisers Company and BHEL, rare public sector establishments in the region, do not give jobs to the locals.
The farmers' children are looking for employment opportunities more than anything else, says Mohan Verma, a fan of the Nehru family.
Many youngsters from these villages have migrated to Surat, Gujarat, and other parts of Uttar Pradesh, the boys tell me.
Chachuram Verma, who lives on the outskirts of Amethi, says, "Rajiv Gandhi showed real concern for us. He was a great son of India. We had a bhavnatmak sambandh (emotional relationship) with him. Now those emotions are waning. People still vote for Sonia and Rahul only because we feel that let this constituency remain a VVIP constituency. Rajiv's children don't even meet enough local people now."
'In the coming years, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi's difficulties will increase'
Amethi and its surrounding areas are lifeless. It is apparent the region is not on the move in spite of the presence of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the Lok Sabha MPs from Rae Bareli and Amethi. Its 157 villages are in dire straits.
I have read about the lack of development in Rahul Gandhi's Amethi, but the lack of development activity hits me hard when I encounter it, particularly since I have visited VVIP constituencies like Sharad Pawar's in Baramati or Mulayam Singh Yadav's in Saifai near Etawah.
Though the Nehru family has been electorally associated with the region since 1952, neither Indira Gandhi nor Rajiv Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi owned or rented a home in their pocket borough. The family has been parachuting into the constituency for the last 60 years.
Rahul Gandhi has represented the Amethi Lok Sabha seat since 2004. In the last eight years, on his visits, he usually stays at the Munshiganj guest house built on the plot next to the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital, which also includes the Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital. The guesthouse has all the facilities of an affluent urban Indian household.
Jagdish Piyush and other local Congressmen insist that the Congress candidates will win comfortably from Amethi and Rae Bareli because Priyanka has campaigned here, covering nearly 1,000 kilometres across its towns and villages, and addressing more than half-a-million people.
Shalabh Mani Tripathi, a journalist from Lucknow who has extensively reported Amethi and Rae Bareli for many years, believes, "Rahul Gandhi began his campaign very well in Uttar Pradesh. He emerged as a leader who could appeal to the educated young class. He seemed to be above religion and caste. But at a meeting in the Kanpur rural constituency last December, he introduced (Non Resident Indian businessman) Sam Pitroda as Vishwakarma-Barahi (from the Vishwakarma caste). He lost the plot."
"Rahul number game par utar aaye. (He is into the number game now)," Tripathi adds.
"In the coming years," he feels, "Rahul and Sonia Gandhi's difficulties will increase here. The legacy of the family is being spent without any valuable addition to it. The family has exhausted the tremendous goodwill created by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. They have been coming here only at election time. Now, the people are critical, they are reviewing their performance. Pukhton ki mikat bachane unhe ab kuch to karna padega (They will have to act now to save the legacy of their ancestors.)"
Returning to Lucknow, the poverty-struck farmers of Amethi remind me of the couplet: Khandahar bata rahen hai, Imarat buland thi (The ruins tell us how grand was the edifice).
The villagers in Dhema, Chandariya and Ratapur believe Priyanka nahin Indira aayi hai (Not Priyanka, Indira Gandhi has arrived).
One is awestruck that Indira Gandhi's memory is still treasured in the hearts of the people of Amethi 27 years after her death.