Rahul, Smriti in fierce fight over Amethi

Rahul, Smriti in fierce fight over Amethi

It’s a battle royal out here. High stakes are involved as two high-profile contestants brazen it out in this one of the most closely watched constituencies. Barbs are fired from both ends, more so by the BJP candidate, and returned, of course.

As BJP’s Smriti Irani faces three-time Congress rival Rahul Gandhi in this bastion of the Gandhi family in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the battle cry is development, something Narendra Modi, then prime ministerial candidate, used effectively in 2014. Smriti is breathing down Rahul’s neck relentlessly as she pulls out all stops to draw Congress to a halt.

Both the parties are harping on development — Smriti on why there is no development, Congress reacting, saying there has been and if there is a break now, it is because of the BJP government at the Centre. At every meeting, the former small screen star lashes out at Rahul for “showing utter disregard” to the Amethi constituency and its people.

The Union minister has stayed put here, occasionally going out to other states for campaigning for BJP — she is a sought-after campaigner. Rahul was here only to file his nomination. In a way, his sister Priyanka, has filled the void by visiting here a couple of times. There are, however, spirited Congress workers who say all is well.

Smriti seems to have successfully sold the issue of (lack of) development, referring to the lack of basic amenities in different towns and villages — open drains, pothole-filled roads, lack of schools and colleges and hospitals, employment opportunities etc.

Speaking to DH at the Gaurigunj party office, Narsing Bahadur Singh, Congress in-charge for Amethi segment, shot back: “Shor machana unki adat hai. Let them shout from sky top, people on the ground know what we are, what we have done for the seat.”

“Please ask Smriti who brought Indo-Gulf fertiliser company, Essar Steel, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, SJ Hospital, ACC factory, BHEL, HAL etc. Ask her why BJP shifted IIIT, food park, Hindustan Paper Mills, the railway work from here?” he questions.

BJP’s Amethi district president Durgesh Tripathi told this newspaper: “People are happy that a defeated candidate has kept in touch with the constituency, visits often, unlike the winner. We will win hands down.”

What does a man on the street say? “Yahan to kaante ki takkar hain (there is neck-and-neck fight here),” says Bhushan, a rickshaw puller, even as DH asks for the route to the Congress office. “Anything can happen,” he says voluntarily. Many echo this view.

Smriti is challenging Rahul for the second successive time. In 2014, the firebrand politician lost by 1.07 lakh votes as she polled 34.4% votes while Rahul came down to 46%, compared to 71% and 66% in the 2009 and 2004 elections, respectively. Overall, Congress has won this seat 10 times. The Gandhis have won five times and lost only twice.

Amethi Lok Sabha seat consists of five Assembly segments and in the 2017 Assembly polls, Congress lost all five — BJP won four and Samajwadi Party the remaining one. In the Amethi segment, Congress came a poor fourth. In 2015, it lost Amethi town panchayat polls too.

Overall, while the fight is tough, Congress is hoping that its loyal voters will not let it down. It may well happen, though by a reduced margin.