The Amethi parliamentary constituency in UP is pretty much a Gandhi family pocket borough. The seat currently represented by Rahul Gandhi was once held by his father Rajiv. In electoral terms, it is generally assumed that it will return a Gandhi family member, come hail or thunderstorm.
This time, things are a bit different. Opposition parties, former allies and some saffron elements are conspiring to make it a rough ride for the Gandhi scion when he comes to contest from Amethi.
First, an agitation was launched against Amethi’s lack of development with protesters hitting the road; that has been followed by another stir in which the closure of factories and resultant unemployment in Amethi has made headlines in the local press. Naturally, all this has to do with the 2014 elections. The move is simple: put Rahul on the back foot when he talks of development citing the example of his own parliamentary constituency. This also puts Rahul’s other pet theme, unemployment, into focus. How can a man who cannot provide employment in his constituency lead the country?
Analysts say there is an element of cornering the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate from all sides. From adjacent Sultanpur, embittered cousin Varun Gandhi is contesting on a BJP ticket. From Amethi, former Gandhi family insider and royal scion Sanjay Singh is most likely to be pitted against the Congress prince ling. Nearly 14 months ago when there were first signs of rebellion in Amethi, it did appear spontaneous. No longer now, as the cards begin to fall in place. The tantrum by Sanjay Singh, who has been largely ignored by the Congress and 10 Janpath in the last decade, has given enough indications as to who is behind the incipient rebellion against Rahul.
In September last year, in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, some locals protested against the lack of development in the constituency. It is likely that they were also miffed about not being able to meet a heavily-guarded Rahul while he was touring Amethi.
Leading the hidden revolt against Rahul is Sanjay Singh, Amethi strongman, currently MP from Sultanpur, who is most likely to fight against Rahul, making him a formidable challenger. Singh and his family wield a lot of influence in this pocket of eastern UP and the BJP is keen that he switches sides.
According to party insiders, there is hectic bargaining going on between the two sides. Says one BJP leader: ‘‘Singh wants a big prize for contesting from Amethi. In case he loses, he wants an assurance to go to the Rajya Sabha in addition to a possible ministerial berth.’’
Two local organizations, the Jagrup Nagrik Manch and the All India Muslim Federation, are at the forefront of this anti-Rahul campaign, some of it with the blessings of political parties opposed to the Congress. The two organizations – on paper pro-Congress – are pursuing an agenda and raising issues which may end up embarrassing the Congress instead. For instance, on the cards is a Rajiv Gandhi nyaya yatra to showcase the achievements of the former prime minister. While on the face of it, it may appear a harmless exercise and a pro-Congress movement, in reality Rahul could be deeply embarrassed if the yatra decides to highlight the lack of development in Amethi, which is certain to show him in poor light. Congress members believe such tendencies should be nipped in the bud because this ‘local’ noise may turn into a crescendo by the time elections arrive a few months down the line.
Virtually unreported in the national media, this little uprising has been taking place for the last six months or so. The script has been timed in such a way that these issues come to the fore at the height of electioneering.
According to sources, Rahul’s continued emphasis on the young has made senior party leaders jittery and these two organizations are said to have the tacit backing of some veteran party leaders in New Delhi who think they may get sidelined even more if the young take centre stage as Rahul has planned.
At Sanjay Singh’s recent birthday bash, which was attended by BJP and SP leaders, the Sultanpur MP could barely hide his frustration and took a veiled snipe at Rahul. ‘‘Amethi has shown from time to time that it rejects outsiders. I am now going to be in Amethi and look after problems faced by the people here,’’ he snarled. Speculation is ripe that Sanjay Singh is itching to take on the Gandhi family hopeful and scupper his chances, if he can help it.
Is it possible that Rahul is unaware of the goings on in his constituency? The utter silence of local Congress leaders in UP too is a little difficult to fathom. But if Rahul is unaware, then his efforts to strengthen the Congress all over the country could come up a cropper on his home turf. In the 2012 UP assembly, the Congress base in Amethi was eroded considerably when the SP won three out of the five assembly seats there and according to insiders, the SP ’s help will become crucial. Analysts believe that if things go wrong in Amethi, then Rahul’s all powerful image in the Congress can take a beating. At the moment, he is the number 2 in the party, a phone call from him solving and settling disputes like nothing one else can. Look at it any which way, Rahul’s road to the Parliament from Amethi looks far from rosy as compared to 2009.