Of the many slogans painted on unplastered brick walls and narrow lanes in Amethi,this one seems to particularly express the steadfast loyalty of this Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh: Kabhie na bhoolo Rajiv bhaiya ka ehsan,duniya mein banayi Amethi ki alag pehchan. (Never forget Rajiv Gandhis favours,he gave Amethi a separate identity). For the Gandhi dynasty and its scion,Amethi has been both a royal bastion and a faithful retainer.
But with the rout of the Congress in recent assembly elections in four states,and the increasing helplessness of Rahul Gandhis earnest do-gooding against the Modi juggernaut,what are the over 15 lakh voters of Amethi thinking? The newest political challenger,Aam Aadmi Party (AAP),has made a quiet appearance here,with brash talk of fielding Kumar Vishwas against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Can its disruptive politics take root here?
At tea stalls and paan shops,there is talk of the general elections ahead. While loyalties still run deep among an older generation,a dissenting note can be heard in conversations with youngsters,who want not just patronage,but jobs and amenities. Ashutosh Mishra will cast his ballot for the first time in the coming Lok Sabha polls. Modi is brilliant. Rahul failed to impress me when he came to our school, says the 18-year-old,when we meet him at the American English Speaking Institute,where he is pursuing a spoken English course.
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Many youngsters see Rahul as a non-performer not only in comparison with Modi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal,but also his own ancestors Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. Whats the use of multi-crore projects if they do not benefit locals? Amethi was developed by Rajiv Gandhi but Rahul has done nothing. The development work in Gujarat,on the other hand,is impressive. I cant even think of getting a job here, says Mishra,who wants to do a management course,and plans to join his father,who works as a security guard in Noida.
Dhirendra Pratap Singh,19,who studies at Ranveer Rananjay PG College,calls his family Congress bhakts (worshippers) and knows they will always vote for the panja. But he minces no words in expressing his dissatisfaction. Kaam ka Rahul nahi hai,sirf naam ka Rahul hai, he says,standing a few yards away from a statue of Rajiv Gandhi in a busy market. A resident of Bhausinghpur village near Amethi,he says he will vote for the BJP.
But before he can finish,Dayaram Yadav joins the conversation. Holding on to a stick for support,the 72-year-old says,I was a security guard at PGIMER,Chandigarh. People gave me respect just because I was from Rahuls constituency. I will always vote for him.
Some youngsters,who have benefitted from the new institutes in the district,agree with him. Mishras friend,Navneet Singh,feels Rahul has been instrumental in opening professional institutes in the district and providing other amenities. An undergraduate at the Ranveer Rananjay College,his younger sister studies at Footwear Design and Development Institute in Fursatganj area of Amethi district.
Amethi district has 1,431 government primary schools,433 government upper primary schools,33 government-aided primary schools,42 madrasas and 145 intermediate schools,including 18 government inter-colleges. There is one Kendriya Vidyalaya in Jagdishpur and a Navodaya Vidyalaya in Gauriganj. Congress MP from Sultanpur Sanjay Singh,who belongs to the erstwhile princely state of Amethi,runs many schools and about half a dozen colleges,including professional ones for pharmacy and engineering.
Ever since the UPA came to power,every rail budget has has a project or two for Amethi. It has become a lot easier for 21-year-old Singh to travel between Amethi and Rae Bareli for his coaching classes. Earlier,I had to catch a train at 5.15 am. But I board the new train Rahul started at 8.15 am and reach Rae Bareli by 9, says Singh.
Hanuman Prasad,34,who has been running a small tea stall outside the Amethi railway station for the last 20 years,feels deeply indebted. Everything here has been done by the Gandhi family, he says. His 15-year-old son Saurabh,a Class X student,helps him at the tea stall sometimes and wants to become an engineer,and his two daughters are studying at a private school. There is no goonda gardi. This place is better because of Rahul. Road hai,train hai,bijli hai, says Prasad. While the town gets 18-hour power supply on an average,the villages around Amethi get it for about 12 hours with power cuts that could last for unpredictable periods.
Sipping tea at Prasads shop,Kamlesh Chauhan,a compounder at a private clinic,joins the debate. How many locals are working in the factories (set up by Congress)? Most students in the local institutes are
from outside. Whats the benefit for the locals? he asks.
In October 2013,Rahul Gandhi had laid the foundation stone of a mega food park to be set up on 72 acres of land in Jagdishpur. The project promised to provide around 2,500 direct jobs,besides giving indirect opportunities to 25,000 others and benefiting 40,000 farmers. However,little progress is visible on the ground.
A small group of AAP workers in white clothes,wearing aam aadmi caps,take out a jhadu lagao yatra in the market of Gauriganj town. They drew curious stares,but nothing more. But AAP workers are upbeat. Aruna Singh,convenor of AAPs Awadh region zonal committee,says,No one was expecting AAP to do what it did in Delhi. We will make similar history in Amethi too. The party,she said,would fight the elections on the issues of bad roads,lack of power and other amenities. Only Congress leaders in Amethi have progressed,not the common man, she added.
Of the five assembly segments under the Amethi LS constituency,Gauriganj and Amethi,which have a significant population of upper caste Brahmins and Thakurs,seem unhappy with Congress and curious about Modi. But Jagdishpur,Tiloi and Salon,with a substantial Muslim population,are unlikely to go against Rahul. In the 2012 assembly elections,Congress lost all but Jagdishpur and Tiloi.
Intezar Ahmed of Chandgarh village says neither AAP nor any other party can do anything significant here. His village,which is near the Jagdishpur industrial area,gets 24-hour power supply. This area has always supported the Congress and will do so, he says.
Old men in Amethi and Rae Bareli see Sonia Gandhi in a sari and her head covered with her pallu,and think she is their bahu (daughter-in-law). They wont change,
Pahad Ka Purwa village,about 15 km from Amethi,is an example of how the Gandhis have nurtured their constituency. The village of about a dozen Dalit families has schools,pucca roads and power supply. In 2002,the family of one of its residents,Ram Bhajan,was evicted from a piece of land by a Thakur. Priyanka Gandhi took up the issue and got an FIR registered. Ram Bhajans nephew Kamlesh says Congress leaders provided them a plot. The family has got another house through Indira Awas Yojana. He says earlier MNREGA helped him earn a stable income. But I have not got any MNREGA wages in the last four years, says Kamlesh,who now earns a living by collecting garbage.
Sazayafta,doshi log,ab na sakenge satta bhog (convicted and guilty people wont be able to enjoy power anymore),goes a slogan in Amethi,supporting Rahuls stand on convicted MPs and MLAs. Nemchandra Soni,former Bhatua block development committee member,says the result of recently-concluded assembly polls could affect the choice of a few anti-Congress people,but the majority will stick with Rahul. The people of Amethi do not judge him (Rahul) on the basis of his success or failure. Gandhi parivar ka kutta bhi election ladega toh woh bhi jeet jayega yahan se, he says.