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Beyond Smriti Irani And KL Sharma, Amethi Looks At Bigger Picture

| Updated: May 15, 2024 12:10

The Congress’ first family may have abandoned Amethi and the BJP’s win may be a given, but the fate of Amethi’s people and its landscape remains the same over the years, no matter which party is at the helm.

The constituency had been a Congress home turf for decades and then BJP’s iron lady Smriti Irani took over.

But ask people here, and they will have a resigned refrain, “Amethi ka vikas se kya vasta, aur yahan pratyashi se kya lena dena (What has Amethi got to do with development or who the candidate is)?”

They know, the ‘VVIP’ constituency, which becomes the cynosure of all eyes every election, will return to its state of gentle decay once the cameras turn away after June 4.

This time the fight is between KL Sharma, the faceless Congress poll manager who has spent 40 years managing the Gandhis’ poll campaigns here, and thus been dubbed “chaprasi” by the BJP, and Smriti Irani, seen as the minister who fought her way into the limelight.

If Sharma’s Gandhi devotion is both his strongest – and weakest – points, BJP workers talk in hushed tones about Irani’s “high handedness”, and how it might cost them.

The BJP is hoping to override that anger by talking about development works like roads under “Modi and Yogi”, and accusing Rahul of “abandoning” the constituency after his 2019 loss to Irani. The fact that even Priyanka Gandhi Vadra did not pick up the baton in Amethi is another proof of the same for the BJP.

However, in this largely rural constituency, there doesn’t seem to be any “vikas ka vote (vote of development)” or even a Gandhi family vote. People are either voting for “rashtra” or “desh” (the country, and hence for Irani) or voting against “the sitting MP” (and hence, for Sharma).

This is Irani’s third election from Amethi, losing in 2014 to Rahul by about 1 lakh votes, and winning in 2019 by a margin of around 55,000.

Says former Congress MLC Deepak Singh: “Irani is only giving the impression that she is a constant presence in Amethi. Instead, she comes only occasionally. Moreover, her own party leaders want her out. There have been instances when she has scolded BJP leaders publicly or ordered them off the stage.”

Admitting some resentment against Irani, a BJP supporter urges voters to look beyond the candidate and vote for “Modi and Yogi”. “KL Sharma is new, we have nothing against him, he has been made a bali ka bakra (sacrificial lamb) by the Gandhi family. Though he is giving a good fight, everyone knows who will form the government at the Centre. So why waste our vote?” he tells people.

Even in the shadow of the Indira Gandhi National Udan Akademi, a flying school whose foundation was laid by former Prime Minister and ex-Amethi MP Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, the sentiments are no different.

People believe, “The Congress will get theek (a good amount of) votes too”. While it might have been different had a Gandhi family member been in the fight, as things stand, people may not be happy with “the behaviour of the local MP” but will keep their eyes on the bigger cause and not “spoil their vote (by picking Sharma).”

“Vote candidate ko nahin, Congress yaa Modi ko dalega (The vote won’t be for either candidate, but for the Congress or Modi),” they say.

In its campaign, the Congress is citing projects started during the UPA regime in Amethi but blocked under the NDA – like ‘Triple IIT’, which closed in 2016 and shifted to Prayagraj; and ‘Mega Food Park’ and a paper mill, which never saw the light of day. Calling it “politics of vengeance”, the party is telling voters about the projects that came up during Rajiv’s era, like BHEL, HAL, an ordinance factory, a cement plant.

Irani talks about the new Coca-Cola bottling plant in Amethi, and seeks more time, citing that while the Gandhis have had “50 years”, she has only had five. Both she and the BJP refer to the fact that Irani also owns a house in Amethi now; and are banking on a planned campaign visit by PM Modi soon.

On the other side, Priyanka has taken charge of both the Amethi and Rae Bareli (from where Rahul is contesting) campaigns for the Congress. Party workers say her entry has enlivened the Congress campaign, with Priyanka already having done over 15 “nukkad (corner) meetings” in Amethi with Sharma.

Priyanka constantly invokes her family’s old connect with Amethi. Sharma, handpicked for Amethi by Rajiv, knows every lane of the constituency, Priyanka says.

Also lending a shoulder to the Amethi fight is former Rajasthan chief minister and Congress veteran leader Ashok Gehlot.

Sharma talks of himself as “a common worker” before adding what he brings to the table: “Gandhi parivar ka darwaza jaise pehle khula rehta tha, waise hi khula rahega (The doors of the Gandhi family will remain open to you, like in the past).”

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