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Battle for Amethi: Smriti Irani's feisty approach, Rahul Gandhi's cameo appearances split families' preferences

The Nehru-Gandhi family struck a special chord with the people of Amethi after Sanjay Gandhi first came here in 1977 to contest the parliamentary election that year. He lost that election in the Janata wave, but three years later, he won from the seat. Since then, Amethi has become a family bastion. Rajiv Gandhi won the seat four times, family loyalist Satish Sharma won two times, Sonia Gandhi secured the seat once, and Rahul Gandhi won three times.

For almost four decades, a large section of the people in Amethi believed themselves to be almost an extension of the Congress’s first family. They were happy with the national and, to an extent, international attention that the place got. The first sign of a breach in that relationship came in 2014, when the BJP leadership fielded a feisty Smriti Irani. She surprised everyone by getting over three lakh votes, and reducing the victory margin of Rahul Gandhi from over 3.70 lakh to slightly over a lakh.

After travelling to various parts of the Amethi parliamentary constituency and talking to a cross-section of people, Firstpost found that the breach in the relationship between the Nehru-Gandhi family and families in Amethi has now sharpened further. Voting preferences of families have seen a split, and this is particularly so for upper-caste families, who had so far stood solidly behind the Congress.

 Battle for Amethi: Smriti Iranis feisty approach, Rahul Gandhis cameo appearances split families preferences

File image of Smriti Irani. PTI

One needs to only scratch the surface a little bit to perceive this situation in the constituency. This is not a sudden development. The desire of the people to voice individual concerns and choices has become very powerful, particularly among women and people below 40 years of age. This has led to surprise and dismay among parents and grandparents of young persons.

Irani insisted on continuing her relationship with the people of Amethi despite losing the election, and has frequently visited the constituency — at least she and the BJP would suggest so. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi has only made cameo appearances. This has had a bearing on the minds of a vast section of the people. In this direct contest between the BJP and Congress, the norm of elders deciding the voting preferences of the family has taken a hit, as has the status-quoist thought process.

Between “bhaiyya” (Rahul Gandhi) and “didi” (Smriti Irani), the latter has become the choice of those voicing defiance against elders' dikats.

It is nobody's case that members of a family ordinarily would not have differing voting preferences. But the scale of this process and the intense emotive churning that it is leading to in parts of Amethi may not be seen elsewhere. Whichever candidate wins, the fact that individual members of families feel empowered to make their political choices is noteworthy. The power of one vote is reflected in their thoughts and words.

Take the case of Shailesh Pandey. He had earlier been a Congress voter, like other members of his family, but has now become a vocal BJP supporter. He said, “I had got tired of carrying the guilt of voting for Rahul Gandhi because my father and grandfather used to tell me that the Gandhis are the only choice for us. There is now a split in my family’s voting preferences...Opinions in families have become divided. One way of looking at it is that this time, democracy has entered every household in the true sense."

Some other people standing nearby also had somewhat similar stories.

This conversation was not an isolated example. About 20 kilometers away, at Bhaurkha village near Gauriganj, 50-year-old Uma Prasad Tiwari said he has to deal with a problem that he had never imagined — his wife, children, niece and nephew are openly saying that they will not vote for Rahul Gandhi, defying the established tradition and the diktat of elders. “I don’t know what to do. This is a situation I have never seen before. Politics is hotly debated at my house. My children are telling me to change my thought process and press the lotus button," he said.

At a tea stall near Amethi Raja palace, young Ranveer Singh Ankur says his choice is clear — he will vote for “didi”. When another person, Guddu Shukla, reminds him that some people from his extended family will vote for "bhaiyya", he says, "That's the fun this time."

However, it would be misleading to conclude that these disagreements within families will have a clear bearing on Gandhi's electoral fortunes. As Shukla pointed out, about three lack Muslim voters, and the Congress' traditional voters, may be part of Rahul Gandhi's vote bank, even if some of them move to the BJP.

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Updated Date: May 06, 2019 09:46:21 IST