BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate in this Nehru-Gandhi bastion, Smriti Irani, is hardselling Narendra Modi’s ‘Vikas Purush’ image among the people here who know her more as ‘Tulsi’, the quintessential ‘bahu’ she played on small screen, than as a politician.
As she addresses one meeting after another in the rural interiors of Amethi, young girls and women gather around her and engage her in animated conversation. She is more popular here for having played Tulsi in Ekta Kapoor’s popular TV soap ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ between 2000 and 2008.
In her meetings, the 38-year-old Irani frequently invokes BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi’s name. “(Modi) will be able to do in 60 months what the Congress’ first family could not do in 60 years (here),” she tells the locals. Significantly, Irani had demanded Modi’s resignation over the Gujarat riots shortly after she joined the party in 2004. That year she had unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha polls from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk seat against Congress’ Kapil Sibal.
Later, she withdrew her statement after BJP made it clear that she either retract or face action. Gradually, she is believed to have become a key member of Modi’s inner circle. During her campaigning, Irani has also been praising Modi, saying that though she was extremely uncharitable in making comments against him in 2004, her nomination was example of Modi’s generosity.
The Rajya Sabha MP, who was also a former McDonald’s outlet worker and a Miss India contestant, exudes confidence about her chances this time, saying the seat symbolises the “failure of the leadership” of sitting MP Rahul Gandhi. “This constituency symbolises the failed leadership qualities of Rahul Gandhi. If this has been a high profile seat for decades, then why is it that this constituency does not have spic and span roads and 24-hour electricity… Why are people drinking water laden with arsenic?” she said.
She further said, “The gentleman who represents the constituency talks about the right to education, but in his home constituency, fails to deliver on those promises and those dreams.” Irani contrasts the power situation in Amethi with that in villages of Gujarat and mocks the Gandhi family for not having fulfilled promises like bringing rail connectivity to Salon.
She said that access to even the basic amenities was a challenge for the people of the constituency.
“‘Bijli, sadak and paani’, which was our slogan in 2004, is still applicable to Amethi in 2014. For me to say I will connect them via optical fibre, people first need electricity. For me to say that I will ensure that your school gets computers, you need teachers here first.
“It is the only constituency where Rahul has inaugurated a factory twice but it has not generated jobs,” claimed Irani.In 2009, Rahul had defeated his nearest contender, BSP’s Asheesh Shukla, by a margin of more than 3.5 lakh votes. Irani, who filed her nomination on Wednesday, believes that this time Amethi could throw up a surprise although, barring two exceptions in the past, it has always elected a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family or someone supported by them.
“Yes, I do foresee a change in the Gandhi bastion, else when have you ever seen the Gandhis come down and be based here for a long time for campaigning. “When Rahul filed his nomination in 2009… He just walked in, signed and left. In 2014, he is compelled to hold a roadshow. What does that tell you? In 2014, all of a sudden, he wants to discover his domicile certificate here. What does that tell you?” she said to back her claim that the Congressvice-president is facing a tough battle this time.
But Irani dismissed talk that the anti-Congress votes in the constituency could go to Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas, who has camped here for the past three months and carried out a massive door-to-door campaign.
“People are aware that they (AAP) are the ‘B-team’ of Congress. They themselves proved it when they collaborated with Congress to form a government in Delhi. With each passing day, people of the country, who are crying for development and good governance, are seeing that AAP is itself based on rhetoric and is chasing headlines,” she said. Irani also made a mention of remarks attributed to Vishwasthat, if given a choice between Congress and BJP, he would vote for BJP.
As for the ‘outsider’ tag, she said she was no more an outsider than Rahul, who has been an Amethi MP for 10 years.
“Who is the real outsider? He (Rahul) has been MP here for 10 years and voting in Delhi… This whole conversation of outsider and insider is to basically deflect the conversation from the challenges of development that the constituency faces,” she said, adding that BJP had people working in the constituency since the party’s Jansangh days.
Except for in 1977 and 1998, the Amethi seat has always been held by a Congress candidate. The only time a Nehru- Gandhi family candidate was defeated here was in 1977 in the post-Emergency Lok Sabha polls when Sanjay Gandhi lost to a Bhartiya Lok Dal candidate. Late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi represented the seat four times while Sonia Gandhi won from here on one occasion. Rahul has been victorious here in 2004 and 2009.
To a question about Priyanka Gandhi’s recent remarks that her cousin Varun Gandhi, who is the BJP candidate for the neighbouring Sultanpur constituency, had chosen a wrong path, Irani hit back saying, “What is the path she would want Varun to follow… The path which has 2G scam, through which farmer land is usurped… Let May 16 decide, which path the nation wants to move on.”