In Amethi, Rahul Gandhi trails Smriti Irani; a loss will make him only second from his family to lose Lok Sabha election
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is trailing Smriti Irani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Gandhi family pocket borough of Amethi
Amethi — one of the most keenly-watched contests in these elections — is a Congress bastion that has been represented by the Congress chief for three consecutive terms since 2004
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Smriti Irani had handed Rahul Gandhi a major scare, before he won by a lower-than-expected margin of just over one lakh votes
Irani's continuous work for five years in Amethi has helped her create a huge support base in the constituency
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is trailing Smriti Irani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Gandhi family pocket borough of Amethi. At noon on Thursday, Gandhi was trailing by around 4,500 votes. He has 38,615 votes against his name and Irani 43,033.
Amethi — one of the most keenly-watched contests in these elections — is a Congress bastion that has been represented by the Congress chief for three consecutive terms since 2004. Before that, the seat was represented by other members of Nehru-Gandhi family including former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Irani had handed Rahul a major scare, before he won by a lower-than-expected margin of just over one lakh votes — a significant drop from the 2009 election where he won by 2.70 lakh votes.
Irani's continuous work for five years in Amethi has helped her create a huge support base in the constituency. Fearing a tough battle, Rahul also decided to contest from Wayanad in Kerala to ensure a Lok Sabha seat in case he loses in his bastion.
Votes are still being counted but if Irani manages to snatch the Amethi parliamentary constituency from Rahul, she will be the biggest “disrupter” of this Lok Sabha election. She will go down in history as someone who stopped the march of dynastic politics by defeating the scion of a political party that institutionalised dynasty in Indian politics.
When the former TV actor was first pitted against Rahul in 2014 election, her critics refused to take Irani seriously. She was called the “sacrificial lamb” by the opposition, which wrote her off immediately.
The result, however, served as a reality check for the detractors. The “sacrificial lamb” managed to give Gandhi the scare and lost the elections by a little more than one lakh votes. The number was significant because members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan were not just known to win elections, but with a margin that would cost the opponents their deposits.
So, a “political lightweight” that Irani was taken to be posing a serious challenge to the dynasty was not an ordinary thing. Following the defeat, people in general and political analysts in particular thought that Irani would not come back to Amethi—celebrities are known to turn their back on their constituents, whatever the outcome, once an election is over.
But, the point most of the analyst missed was that Irani was no more a celebrity-turned politician. She had transformed into a pucca neta, a hardcore politician. Though she was given ministerial positions in the Narendra Modi government and was a member of the Rajya Sabha, she did not leave Amethi.
For the next five years, she was a regular at Amethi. She worked for the development of the constituency while ensuring that the sitting MP, Rahul Gandhi, was held accountable.
On several occasions she raised the issue of “Rahul Gandhi ignoring the development of his constituency” and it struck a chord with people of Amethi.
Irani managed to create a huge support base, a build-up to a tough fight. Gandhi’s decision to contest from Kerala’s Wayanad, seen as a “safe seat” for the Congress, was read as a move to ensure that he would find a place in the Lok Sabha if Amethi was lost.
Amethi has been a Congress stronghold for decades. Rahul Gandhi has represented it for three consecutive terms since 2004. Before him other members of the Nehru-Gandhi family like former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi entered the Lok Sabha through the east Uttar Pradesh constituency. Other than Sanjay Singh of the BJP in 1998, Amethi has always backed the Congress.
Latest count shows Irani leading with 4,418 votes and if she manages to pulls it off, it will the story of 2019 Lok Sabha election.
If the trends continue and Irani is able to maintain the lead, this could be a major setback for the Congress. Apart from Indira Gandhi — who lost the election after Emergency — none of the family members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan have been defeated in the Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from Amethi, another constituency that is of immense importance for the Congress is Rae Bareli where former Congress president Sonia Gandhi has won three terms.
Prominent members of the Nehru-Gandhi family who contested and won from Rae Bareli are Indira Gandhi and Firoz Gandhi. In Rae Bareli, Sonia had won with huge margins in three terms. However, as the trends show, she has polled 65,498 votes as against 46,063 for BJP candidate Dinesh Pratap Singh.
The fact that Gandhi is trailing in Amethi can be worrisome for the Congress as this is the first time that the Congress is fighting under the leadership of Gandhi who took over as the Congress chief in December 2017.
In this scenario, if he fails in Amethi it will be a major embarrassment for him personally too.
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