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Monday, July 16, 2018

Having lost to BJP in civic polls, Amethi remains very proud of Rahul

With Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi becoming president of the Congress party, Amethi-wallahs say they are under pressure to perform more than ever.

Written by Maulshree Seth , Lalmani Verma | Updated: December 4, 2017 9:47:52 pm
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi before submitting his nomination paper for the post of party president at AICC office in New Delhi on Monday.Express photo by Anil Sharma

As Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination papers for the post of national president of the Congress party on Monday and seems all set to be elected unopposed, about 14 pradesh congress committee members from Amethi travelled to Delhi to participate in the celebrations. Rahul, along with being the national vice-president and member of parliament from Amethi, is also one of 17 Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee members.

Amethi-wallahs say they feel “proud” as Amethi is all set to give the Congress party its third President, after Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, but in the same breath smilingly admit, “zimmedari to barhegi hi”. Our responsibilities will increase.

While Rae Bareli and Amethi, constituencies represented by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and “President-to- be” Rahul Gandhi, respectively, have always been referred to as “VVIP” constituencies within the Congress, local leaders and workers feel the pressure to perform more than ever. The leaders are aware that they will become even bigger targets, their every mistake and failure highlighted. But they say they also know that the BJP is trying to restrict Rahul to Amethi, when he has to worry about revamping the organisation across the country.

“We know there is a well planned strategy to target us. But the lies spread by others will not make a difference. They want to restrict Rahul Gandhi to just Amethi and divert his attention because he is pointing out their lies across the country,” says Yogendra Mishra, Amethi district president who is in Delhi along with PCC members and other leaders from Rae Bareli and Amethi for the “big day”.

The leaders feel the pressure as they find it difficult to explain the latest loss of Jais and Gauriganj Nagar Palika Parishad seats in Amethi in the recent local body polls. While the party had not contested two Nagar Panchayat seats, Amethi and Musafirkhana, it had hoped to perform better in its stronghold Jais and in Gauriganj. But it lost both.

Uttar Pradesh has always been on Rahul Gandhi’s radar, even as party general secretary. The Gandhi family calls Uttar Pradesh its “karma bhoomi” as Indira, Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul have all been MPs from Uttar Pradesh; the Nehru family home is in Allahabad. But the truth is that since Rahul seriously threw himself in politics, his strategy hasn’t yielded any results so far.

Read | ‘Reluctant’ politician to Congress president: A re-look at Rahul Gandhi’s political journey

In the 2012 Assembly polls, Rahul Gandhi for the first time addressed over 100 rallies across Uttar Pradesh, but the party won only 28 out of 403 assembly seats. Similarly before the 2017 Assembly polls, Rahul led the party’s campaign and undertook Kisan Yatra across the state. But at the last moment, the Congress decided to ally with Samajwadi Party and ended up getting just 7 seats only.

The Congress-SP alliance was certainly hoping for a revival through the local body polls but neither won any Mayor seats. It came fourth among four major parties in the state, winning nine Nagar Palika Parishad seats  out of 198 and 17 Nagar Panchayat seats out of 438, along with 110 seats of corporators out of 1300 in the state.

The BSP, which contested local body polls for the first time on its symbol, won two Mayor seats, 29 Nagar Palika Parishad and 45 Nagar Panchayat seats. The Samajwadi Party won just 45 Nagar Palika Parishad Chairmen seats and 83 Nagar Panchayat Chairmen seats.

On the other hand, the BJP has won 100 nagar panchayat chairpersons, 70 in municipal boards and most importantly, chairpersons in the municipal board and nagar panchayat in Amethi. It now plans to take these winning candidates from Amethi to poll-bound Gujarat to showcase Amethi’s ‘success’ and target Rahul.

Read | Indian National Congress: From 1885 till 2017, a brief history of past presidents

For the first time this time, a chief minister toured the state to campaign in civic polls. CM Yogi Adityanath addressed more than 30 public meetings. The BJP and Congress both released manifestos, the BJP promising better amenities, while the Congress talked about Modi’s Assembly election jibes around shamshan (cremation grounds) and kabristan (graveyards) and promised development of both.

The BJP kept its Hindutva agenda alive, with the chief minister highlighting the grand Diwali celebrations during canvassing. Adityanath upgraded Ayodhya and Mathura into municipal corporations and the party won both mayoral seats after he started campaign from Ayodhya. With a grand statue of lord Ram now being planned in Ayodhya, the Hindutva agenda is being warmed up for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The BSP, meanwhile, has emerged as a beneficiary to some extent, bagging two mayor seats from Aligarh and Meerut and several constituencies in western UP. It seems to have garnered votes from Muslims and Dalits. In fact it is the BSP, not the Congress, which has emerged as the real opposition to the BJP. Mayawati’s strategy of wooing the Muslims, which she had employed in 2007, has paid off. If this continues in the general elections, UP may witness a surprise.

The SP, the main opposition party with 47 seats in the UP Assembly, could not win a single mayor seat, but won more seats than the BSP in municipal boards and nagar panchayats.

But the single most interesting factor of these civic polls has been the sterling performance of Independent candidates, who polled 20.4 per cent of the total votes and performed better than the SP, BSP and Congress parties. Even smaller parties like AAP and AIMIM have opened their account. The BJP knows it has a fight on its hands.

Truth is, no one can take Uttar Pradesh for granted, ever.

Maulshree Seth and Lalmani Varma work in the Indian Express bureau in Lucknow. She tweets @MaulshreeSeth

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