At 10:30 am, the gates of Bhupati Palace in Ramnagar Jangal of Amethi are opened and an SUV comes out. In the front seat is Garima Singh, 61, Amethi’s BJP candidate; in the back is her younger daughter Shaivya Singh, 34. Locally referred to as “Bari Rani” and “Pehli Rani”, Garima is followed by BJP supporters carrying lotus flags as she goes from village to village “begging” for justice in the shape of votes. It is her daughter who does most of the introductions, in Awadhi.
Garima ends most meetings by holding forward one end of her saree in a gesture of begging, and saying, “Humein sati maharani ka ashirwad mila hayi… hum apan anchal aapke samne phailayit hai, humein bheekh mein nyaye de deyin, dher sara kamal ka phool de deyin (I have the blessings of goddess Sati. I spread my anchal in front of you. I beg for justice… give me a lot of lotus flowers).”
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Some women, seeing “Bari Rani” for the first time, are touched and agree to give her a chance. “Only a woman can understand the feelings of another woman,” says one.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Sinh claims to have divorced Garima but her election affidavit names him as her husband. Contesting her first election, Garima has been telling voters she is Sanjay Sinh’s “true wife”.
The affidavit of Ameeta Sinh, Garima’s Congress rival, too names Sanjay Sinh as her husband. Locally referred to as “Rani”, Ameeta has twice been MLA from Amethi.
In the past three decades, the assembly seat has been won five times by the Congress and two times by the BJP.
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In Shivgarh gram sabha, Shaivya narrates how they had been asked to leave the palace 24 years ago. She says her mother has not protested so far because she wanted to “protect the honour of the Raja” but now they had come out for justice for Rajkumar Anant Vikram Singh, Garima’s son, who according to them is being denied his rights in Amethi.
Anant is Garima’s poll manager. He had travelled all over the constituency for two years before the BJP eventually decided to feild Garima. Garima’s other daughter Mahima too assists the campaign.
Between the emotional pitches, promises made in the BJP such as loan waiver, too, find a mention during the campaign. “Sangh volunteers” such as Aditya Mishra and Narendra Misha travel with her.
Some in the audience say they are open to the idea of giving Garima ek mauka (a chance). Others openly express their doubts. Geeta Singh, 45, grips Shaivya’s arm and says in a firm voice, “Par jeetne ke baad ana parega (Make sure you come back after winning).”
A few hours after Garima has gone out, the gates are opened again to allow another fleet of vehicles out of the palatial complex. This one is Ameeta’s campaign fleet. In separate vehicles, she and Sanjay Sinh set off to different villages.
In Chavni village, a few kilometres from the palace, Sinh tells voters that the mistake that he had made last time has to be corrected. He blames the BJP for creating a tamasha by causing a divide. “Gwalior mein larayi, Apna Dal mein mahtari-bitiya (mother-daughter) ko larayi.” He alleges that Samajwadi Party MLA Gayatri Prajapati has brought a bad name to Amethi and seeks votes in favour of “Rani Ameeta Sinh” to bring back “Amethi ka samman”.
At Daddan Saddan, Ameeta addresses a group of Yadav voters. Like Garima, she does not take the name of her rival contestant but asks the crowd to chose someone who can stand for herself and for the public.
She reminds Yadavs of atrocities against them in the past five years. To her, Akhilesh is “chief minister” and she speaks of the close relations between Sanjay Sinh and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The SP candidate, however, is in her speeches a corrupt leader who has “committed atrocities”.
Gayatri, the sitting SP MLA, is a minister and often finds mention in election speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for cases registered against him.
Calling this election an “ajeeb chunao” (strange election), Ameeta tells the gathering, “Maine tora nahi, jora hai”.
While Garima’s campaign pitch is largely about emotion, Ameeta bases hers on the work she has undertaken, especially installation of hand-pumps, combined with accusations against the BJP for creating a divide in “the royal family of Gwalior” and the Apna Dal’s “mother-daughter. Ameeta had won the seat as a BJP candidate in 2002, then as Congress candidate in 2007.
Minister Gayatri, who faces charges of rape, builds his campaign around “Janata ki adalat” and projects himself as the “sewak” of the public. In 2012, he defeated Ameeta.
At Naugarh area, Gayatri announces increased pension for women — Rs 1000 per month (part of the SP manifesto) — and promises to include all women who had earlier been left out.
Gayatri targets the two “Ranis” in the same breath. “Ek hi gate, ek hi ghar… maile kuchaile ghus paoge batao. Woh sewa karwane wale log hain, main zindagi bhar sewa karunga.”