The Congress has rarely faced a contest here. Not this time, as the the BJP’s Smriti Irani and AAP’s Kumar Vishwas take on Rahul Gandhi. Now in Amethi voters asking more questions of the Gandhis than ever before.
Maurya and his family, who have always voted for the Congress, but this time he says he will back the BJP. “I am not saying Rahul Gandhi will lose, but this election will tell the Congress it can’t take us for granted,” he says. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
The stage is set for Priyanka Vadra at Deeh in the Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi. In between, to fill in time, local Congress leaders and loyalists make enthusiastic speeches. Rafiq Warsi, popularly known as Allu mian, regales the audience with a poem that speaks of the Gandhi family’s “love” and “ties” with Amethi, before moving on to the “treachery” that’s afloat in the constituency. “Magar ab ki thoda sa badla hai mausam/Aur chunauti dene ayein hain zaalim (There is a change in the air/And the cruel have come to challenge us).’ (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
The zaalim, he underlines, in case someone has missed the point, are those contesting against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. He has barely finished his poem when the attention of the crowd turns from him to Priyanka striding in. They crane their necks to get a better look at her and fall silent as she speaks. “Have you been waiting for long? Two hours? Aur aaj toh dhoop bhi hai (It’s a hot day). But you have waited because of your love for us,” says Priyanka, dressed in a navy blue sari. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
In her speech, she talks of how Rahul is a doordarshi (visionary) like their father. She also acknowledges the villagers’ concerns about bad roads and errant electricity supply. “There are some hurdles but that’s not because we lack intent. It’s because of some state-Central issues.” She reaches out across the barricade, shaking hands with people before making an exit. Her handshakes dominate conversations long after she has left. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
The talk then turns to Narendra Modi. “Arre bhaiyya, there’s no Modi wave in Amethi,” says Birendra Kumar Tiwari, a farmer who has come from a neighbouring village to see Priyanka. “But when Priyanka comes, ek lahar si aa jati hai,” intervenes Rashid. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
Ahead: BJP in Amethi
Meanwhile, at Salon party candidate Smriti Irani, finally arrives at 9 pm and hits the ground running. “When I tell people I am going to Amethi, they tell me, it’s the Gandhis’ constituency, it must be swarg (heaven),” she tells the workers, “Par swarg mein gaddhe to nahin hote (But there can’t be potholes in heaven).” (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
Young boys ready to vote for Irani quote Aam Aadmi Party candidate Kumar Vishwas to make their point. “This is the land of the poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi but there is no degree college here. Dr Vishwas is right when he says that if they can get your vote without making a university, why will they spend money to make it?” AAP’s relentless campaigning, asking people to question the Congress, appears to have stoked the youth’s resentment, some of the fruits of which could go to the BJP. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
“Amethi isn’t untouched by the Modi wave. This time, we have a strong candidate. Smriti is also vice-president of the party. Is baar ladai takkar ki hogi (This is a battle of equals). This time, the OBC votes that usually go to the Congress will come to us and so will some Brahmin votes,” says Daya Shankar Yadav, the BJP’s district chief. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
Ahead: AAP in Amethi
Mujahid Khani village in Amethi doesn’t get too many visitors. As the AAP campaign vehicle rolls in with the song ‘Mera rang de basanti chola’, people step out of their homes. In these parts, the AAP caps, many of them with the party’s name in Urdu, are the new toffees. Children line up for them, some hide theirs in one hand and reach out greedily for another. Too young to vote but the cap fits. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
As the AAP convoy travels through the mostly Muslim-dominated villages, the youth flock to it. “It’s difficult to persuade the older people who have been voting for one party for so long to change. But the younger lot has been coming to us in large numbers. We have 27,000 volunteers here. This is the first time they have tasted activism and they are excited,” says Vishwas. The AAP candidate has been camping in Amethi for five months, claims to have visited 1,200 villages so far, spending 40 nights there. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
Vishwas stops to address villagers as one of them starts a chant, “Kumar bhaiyya ki takker mein, Pappu pad gaya chakker mein.” “On May 16, when you switch on your TV sets… oh, but how will you do that, you get no electricity. But if you do, then you will see when the results come out, Pappu paas nahin hua hoga.” (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
At Kishni village, villagers sit around discussing elections after the AAP convoy has left. “The transformer got burnt weeks ago and we are left without light. We have got no kerosene for the past four months. Na batti jalti hai, na chiragh.” “That’s true but it’s not as if nothing has been done. It’s the party dalals who have looted everything. And how can they solve matters that come under the state?” says Tyeb Ali, former pradhan of Kishni. “Priyanka reminds us a lot of Rajiv bhaiyya. He also used to move away from the road and start meeting people. Amethi ki pehchan Gandhi parivar se hai. This is their home, how can we break away from them?” asks Ali wistfully.
That’s a question many in Amethi are wrestling with. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)Read full story here.