Amethi (Uttar Pradesh), April 22: Is the Congress getting the jitters in Amethi, a high-profile constituency long considered a pocket borough of the Gandhis? While no Congressman openly talks about it, senior leaders concede in private of an “opposition onslaught” that was “worrying if not frightening”.
They are emphatic that incumbent MP Rahul Gandhi will win a third term, but they are haunted by a rare spectre of a narrowed down margin of victory for the Gandhi scion.
And it is not without reason that Rahul’s mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi held her first election rally in 10 years in Amethi last week.
Striking an emotional chord, Gandhi asked people to repose their faith in Rahul whom she “gave to them in 2004”.
“Like Indira ji gave Rajiv ji, my husband, to you many years back, I gave Rahul to you in 2004 and hope your love for him will continue,” she said at the rally.
This is very unlike the Gandhis who in the past have only held a road show prior to the nomination and leave the campaigning to local leaders and Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The “once-in-a-decade” rally of Sonia Gandhi has caught the attention of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who has since been taunting the first family of Indian politics, saying when Rahul has failed to take care of Amethi, how can he look after the country?
“Sonia ji is seeking votes for her son on an emotive note…things are clear hence,” Modi said at several rallies in the northeast.
The worry for Congressmen does not seem misplaced too.
Considering the near rout of the Congress in Amethi in the 2012 state assembly elections, the candidature of Kumar Vishwas by the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) and Smriti Irani of the BJP has also made the electoral contest tough.
Faced with a strong anti-incumbency sentiment across the country, the party is now worried that the two glib talking contestants would take the sheen off from the Congress ‘yuvraj’.
Leading the charge is poet-turned-politician Kumar Vishwas who has been camping in Amethi for the last three months, ever since the AAP set its eyes on the VVIP constituency.
Having rented a house for himself here, Vishwas calls himself the frontrunner and says that “history will be written May 16” when the votes are counted.
“I am the real ‘ummeedvaar’ from here as people have ummeed (hope) from me alone,” Kumar Vishwas told IANS.
“He (Rahul Gandhi) has been MP from this place for 10 years, look at the state of roads and the grim power scenario,” he says as a handful of people listening attentively to him clap in agreement.
He goes on to attack Rahul’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, saying how Robert’s rags-to-riches story was a slap on every sane thinking, law-abiding citizen of the country.
Worry for the Gandhis, as admitted by Priyanka to close aides, says a source, is also the presence of thousands of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activists who are camping in the villages trying to win them over for the BJP candidate.
Smriti Irani, a favourite TV bahu is also sweating it out, staying at a one-room accommodation.
She is largely pinning hopes on the “Modi wave” and is appealing to the women in the countryside, assuring them of “acche din aane waale hain” (Good days will come soon) if the BJP is voted to power.
Priyanka, who is the campaign manager of her brother, has sent an SOS to her mother Sonia Gandhi of “increased RSS activity” in the area, forcing Sonia to hold her first election rally in Amethi in a decade.
Not ready to take any chances, the party has also rejigged the local party hierarchy. Kishori Lal Sharma has once again been given the charge of election management, while party strategist Manoj Mattoo has once again been roped in.
Senior Congress leader Chandrakant Dubey, hitherto holding charge of Rahul’s campaigning, has been given other tasks to attend to.
A trip to Amethi, specially the pot-holed roads in the countryside, is enough to suggest that all talk of development in the constituency is far from reality.
People from Delhi and other places are quick to point out the back breaking journey and powerless nights in the villages of Amethi. And this is what the opposition parties are out to capatilise on.
As the people vote May 7, the fear among the Congressmen is of the dent on the Gandhi halo.