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Is Amethi really slipping out of Rahul Gandhi's grasp?

Ever since Amethi managed to steal a bit of Varanasi's thunder with the Priyanka-Modi war of words, all eyes have been trained on the constituency for some poll day drama. And Amethi didn't disappoint. Throughout the day, Congress, AAP and BJP sparred with each other, suddenly making Amethi seem like the most hotly contested constituency in the country. While India's political history suggests that the seat has been traditionally been a non-battle for all parties taking on the Congress, there seems to be a hint of an anti-Congress buzz in Amethi at present.

While there aren't ground reports or pre-poll surveys suggesting it, the Opposition has drummed a considerable noise to assert that Rahul Gandhi might be fast losing ground in the Congress domain that Amethi is. Gandhi, wearing a white kurta and a poster-perfect smile, decided to spend the day in Amethi, giving fodder for the opposition, who said that it was a sense of panic that brought him to his constituency on polling day.

Their suggestions might not be entirely unfounded given Gandhi, who has held the constituency for two consecutive polls, had never taken the effort to be present in the constituency on a voting day in the past. More so, while he did news television channels a great visual favours by waving, smiling and hugging an odd starry-eyed voter on his way, he managed to rustle up a storm by getting himself clicked inside a booth and staring at a polling machine while a voter waited a feet away.

The Opposition lost no time in suggesting that Gandhi might just have turned up in the polling booth to make sure voters were distracted enough to vote for the Congress. But the Congress was having none of it.

"Of course, he was not trying to influence a voter," Congress minister Shashi Tharoor defended the party's vice president, on a debate on CNN IBN moderated by editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai.

He also defended the party's star candidate's absence from the constituency.

 Is Amethi really slipping out of Rahul Gandhis grasp?

Rahul Gandhi. PTI.

"The the last two elections, Amethi went to polls quite early in the schedule. So Rahul was busy campaigning for the party in other constituencies and couldn't be in Amethi. This time, the polls happened there in the penultimate leg and he could afford to be in his constituency," Tharoor explained.

However, the BJP was having none of it. Party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman suggested that Smriti Irani's candidature has given the Congress a good number of jitters, which forced Rahul to be present in his constituency on polling day.

"The Congress has realised that no seat is safe enough for the Congress and Smriti Irani is giving Rahul Gandhi a fight to the finish," said Sitharaman.

Rahul, who won the Amethi seat in 2009 by a spectacular margin of 3,70,000 votes, might have reasons to worry, suggested Aam Aadmi Party's Somnath Bharti.

"You cannot imagine the kind of love and respect Amethi harbours for Kumar Vishwas. They love him from the core of their heart and for the first time, Amethi will witness  a historic election," Bharti declared.

While the BJP and Congress didn't seem entirely willing to vouch for this theory, senior journalist Sharat Pradhan from Uttar Pradesh said the AAP candidate has definitely made some clear inroads into Amethi.

"His door-to-door campaign in Amethi has encouraged people to speak up. Before his campaign, people in Amethi wouldn't ever question the Gandhis. Now they do. However, the BJP with their glitzy campaign is gaining from Kumar Vishwas' efforts. Smriti Irani is banking on the roads cleared up by the AAP," Pradhan said.

While the Congress has been accused of developing late jitters, the other parties in the fray were equally nervous about Amethi, claimed the Congress. Tharoor accused BJP Smriti Irani of trying to intimidate voters in Amethi booths.

"She parked three cars with BJP cadre near the booths and tried to intimidate voters. The voters only came and told us. Priyanka Gandhi's PA had entered the premises only to complain about her actions," Tharoor said, explaining the altercation between Irani and Priyanka's PA Preeti Sahay.

While Sitharaman didn't clarify why Irani was present in a particular polling booth for an hour with her entourage, she retorted by saying that the Congress was at fault to have sent an unauthorized representative to the booth.

She and Bharti pointed out that Rahul's presence in the booth was equally questionable. "What was he doing in the cubicle?" asked Sitharaman.

Tharoor defended Gandhi saying that the EC doesn't have any provision stopping a candidate from being inside the booth as long as he doesn't carry a party symbol and doesn't talk about the polls with a voter.

"Nothing in those pictures provides evidence that Rahul Gandhi was trying to influence the voters or talking about the polls," said Tharoor.

It is possibly easier to side with the Congress' argument here. Had the very sight of Rahul been a way to amass votes for the Congress, then the party would ideally be sitting back in glee, basking in the knowledge of a victory. After all, Rahul has been shown-off in all important constituencies and is seen smiling back beatifically from billboards, TV screens, web tickers and wall graffiti across the country.

However, the popular perception about Rahul has been the principle cause of worry for the Congress in the present elections. It's the reason why Priyanka Gandhi had been dispatched to launch a bristling offensive against Modi in Amethi. In fact, even Sonia Gandhi campaigned in Amethi to keep the voters' on Congress' side. 

A Congress' Amethi page on Facebook has some 18,000 likes, whereas, the AAP's Amethi page has close to 170,000 likes, making it evident that the Congress might be on facing some criticism over the constituency, if not from within it. While Shashi Tharoor said that the Gandhis have brought enough 'central assistance' to Amethi, the Opposition pointed out that despite Rahul, Amethi's education, health and transport infrastructure is crumbling.

"One has to understand the MP is not a super MLA. There are certain things that a state government has to do. And in case of an unfriendly state government, it become very difficult. However, we have to admit that Rahul Gandhi has not been able to pay much attention to Amethi owning to his other responsibilities," Tharoor said.

"The state's governing party (SP) gives outside support to the party. How much friendlier can this get?" retorted Sitharaman.

Rahul has more than a few questions to answer in Amethi. However, except for a mammoth Narendra Modi rally, which reportedly had BJP supporters from as far as Gujarat turn up for it, there has been no great evidence that the constituency will be demanding answers in this election. And if it is up for it, like Sharat Pradhan pointed out, the AAP might stand to gain from it. Because the BJP's Amethi rally, unlike the other rallies, was less a show of strength, but more an effort to find a foothold.

Modi literally 'introduced' Smriti Irani to the constituency a day before it went into polls by outlining her achievements and publicly endorsing her. Given that the whole of Amethi, unlike Twitter-fans and newsrooms, wasn't sitting glued to their televisions, there is a fair chance that BJP might have delayed Modi's Amethi debut quite disastrously. Especially when Priyanka Gandhi had already been busy charming voters and painting Modi as the immature, vindictive political other to her audience.

Who will have the last laugh though in Amethi is something we'll know in a week.

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Updated Date: May 08, 2014 07:52:53 IST