Qila fateh kar liya. The fort has been conquered.
That’s what the ecstatic BJP worker was telling everyone who walked past his party office Friday in Amethi, a day after Smriti Irani defeated Rahul Gandhi, ending his 15-year grip on the family stronghold.
While the defeat of Gandhi in Amethi reverberated across the nation and signalled the rout of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, BJP workers and supporters on the ground here were not very surprised. Change, they said, had been in the air for a while. Their party, they said, had been transforming the face of Amethi.
Two months ago, the BJP started functioning from a new office, moving out from the rented, ramshackle dharamshala that had been its workplace for decades. The newly constructed three-storey building is a well-furnished office, complete with air-conditioning in every room, modern furniture, a conference hall, a meeting hall for 300 people, an IT room. It has a granite staircase, tiled floors, rest rooms, even a seven-bed dormitory. Not many in Amethi have such a workplace.
In sharp contrast is the Congress office, barely 2 km away. The day after the defeat, there are big locks on the doors. And that’s a sight Amethi hasn’t seen in years.
BJP leaders credit Smriti Irani’s victory to her “hard-work”. They list her many visits to Amethi despite losing in 2014, and recall how she would bring Union Ministers to announce different schemes.
Irani, on her part, thanked them in an audio message released Friday: “Mei Smriti Irani, aaj se aapki vidhivat sansad. Ek sadharan parivar ki mujh jaise mahila ko aap sabne ashirwad diya. Aap sabne jo itihas racha ussey desh aur duniya ne dekha (From today, I am your MP. You have blessed a woman from an ordinary family. The entire country and the world are witness to the history you created).”
The Congress workers are still coming to terms with the defeat. The party’s district president Yogendra Mishra has offered his resignation. No one knows what will happen to the party workers in Amethi. Will Rahul come? Will Priyanka come? They don’t know.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Mishra said, “Someone had to accept responsibility for this defeat. Being the local head, it is my responsibility. But the results should not be seen as the failure of Rahul Gandhi. They (BJP) had the government at the state level too, and used all means. We were confident that the people of Amethi would not ditch the Gandhi family. We will be back.”
The divide in Amethi is evident. Many who used to vote for Gandhi decided to switch sides once they started benefitting from government schemes for housing, handpumps, Ujjwala and PM-Kisan. There’s a feeling here that more such benefits will come their way once they send a BJP member to Lok Sabha.
Many here said they were “fed up” because the Congressmen would always offer the excuse that the governments in the state and Centre were not theirs and, therefore, they could do little to help them. Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from a second seat — Wayanad in Kerala — did not go down well either.
Anuj Raidas, a driver by profession, said: “Rahul was not a regular visitor. I think he had anticipated the results and that is the reason why he chose to contest from a different place. If Rahul does not care for us anymore, then why should we.”
Kamal Chand Yadav, who owns a tea shop in the Jagdishpur area, said: “We do not have big issues or demands. We do not care about that so-called scam (it was a reference to the Rafale controversy). In the last five years, so much has been given to the people of Amethi — government houses, toilets, and Rs 2,000 in the bank accounts of many in our village. We saw something which we always dreamt about. Moreover, when Rahul chose Wayanad, we realised that he no longer cares for us. Naam dekh kar kab tak vote karenge (how long will we vote for a name).”
But Ravi Kumar, standing next to him, objected. Upset over Gandhi’s defeat, he said: “Unki seat nahi, unka ghar hai yeh. Bakwas mat karo. Panch saal mein samajh jaoge (It is not his constituency, it is his home. Don’t talk rubbish. In five years, realisation will come).”
At the BJP office, as he received a stream of visitors congratulating him and his party, Govind Singh, who is also his party’s local spokesperson, said: “We have created history. The task was not easy. Despite losing in 2014, Smriti Irani visited the constituency 40 times in the last five years. She camped regularly for the past one month. During festivals, sarees and sweets were given to women. Someone or the other was always available at her office in Delhi to attend to the problems of the people of Amethi.”
All around him nod in agreement. Their new office, they say, is the start of a “lambi pari” (long innings) for the BJP in Amethi.