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Monday, December 16, 2019

Gandhis in Amethi: From Sanjay to Rahul, the story of a pocket borough

Amethi’s first tryst with the Nehru-Gandhi family happened in 1980 when Sanjay Gandhi won the seat. In the next three decades, the constituency changed hands across three other members of the family.

Written by Adrija Roychowdhury | New Delhi | Updated: May 23, 2019 6:39:27 pm
From left to right, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi

Literally the heart of Uttar Pradesh, Amethi has been the citadel of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The constituency has voted for the Congress for every term since its formation in 1967, except for a few years in the 1970s and the late 1990s. Amethi’s first tryst with the Nehru-Gandhi family happened in 1980 when Sanjay Gandhi won the seat. In the next three decades, the constituency changed hands across three other members of the family, with Rahul Gandhi representing the seat since 2004. This time though, Smriti Irani of the BJP won the seat with a margin of 35,000 votes. While she received 49.02 per cent of vote share, Gandhi trailed behind with 44.44 per cent.

Sanjay Gandhi (1980-81)

Sanjay Gandhi contested elections for the first time in 1977, immediately after the Emergency had been lifted. He had received widespread criticism for his involvement in the forced sterilisation programme to check population growth. He stood from Amethi that year and received a crushing defeat with the seat going to a non-Congress politician for the first time in its fairly short history. Not only did he lose Amethi, Indira Gandhi’s Congress party was wiped out from all across Northern India. Ravindra Pratap Singh of the Janata party became the MP from Amethi.

Amethi’s first tryst with the Nehru-Gandhi family happened in 1980 when Sanjay Gandhi won the seat. (Express archive photo)

Three years later though, Gandhi won from the same seat against Singh in the general elections of 1980. His tenure in the constituency, however, was fairly short as he passed away the same year in June. A month before his death, Gandhi had been appointed the general secretary of the party.

Rajiv Gandhi (1981-1991)

Rajiv Gandhi was on a foreign tour in London when news of his brother’s death broke. He returned to India immediately and decided to join active politics within a week’s time. On May 4, 1981, Indira Gandhi proposed her son’s name as candidate from Amethi at a meeting of the All India Congress Committee. The proposal was accepted by all members present at the meeting and Rajiv Gandhi filed for his candidature in Sultanpur. Soon after, he won the seat defeating Lok Dal candidate Sharad Yadav by a margin of more than 2 lakh votes. He took oath as MP from Amethi on August 17, 1981.

Rahul Gandhi won Amethi defeating Lok Dal candidate Sharad Yadav by a margin of more than 2 lakh votes. (Express archive photo)

Since the time he took over the seat in Amethi, Gandhi held on to it till 1991 when he was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The legacy of Rajiv Gandhi in the constituency is so strong that voters often express their allegiance to the late prime minister while supporting son Rahul Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi (1999-2004)

The bypolls held after the death of Rajiv Gandhi was won by Satish Sharma of the Congress. He was re-elected in 1996. Two years later, however, Sharma was defeated by Bhartiya Janata Party’s Sanjay Singh, making it the second defeat for the Congress from Amethi.

Rajib Gandhi with Sonia Gandhi in Amethi (Express archive photo)

In the 1999 elections, Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi contested from the same seat and won. She held onto the seat till 2004 when her son Rahul Gandhi contested and won from the seat and Sonia shifted her candidature to Rae Bareli.

Rahul Gandhi (2004-?)

Rahul Gandhi won Amethi in 2004 and was re-elected to the seat in 2009 and again in 2014. The local population who has voted for the Congress leader thrice in the last 15 years, find themselves emotionally connected to the Gandhi family.

In the 2014 general elections, however, Gandhi received his first jolt in the seat when his opponent Smriti Irani from the BJP gave him a tough fight. However, Irani lost out with a margin of 1.07 lakh votes. The margin though was much thinner than in 2009 when Gandhi defeated his opponent by a margin of 3.70 lakh votes.

Rahul Gandhi won Amethi in 2004 and was re-elected to the seat in 2009 and again in 2014. (Express Photo by Pramod Adhikari)

Since the 2014 loss, Irani had been visiting the constituency frequently and taking on the Congress leadership. The constituency has been one of the most closely watched since the beginning of the election campaign. With the Mahagathbandhan’s decision to away from the seat, it has largely been a two-way contest between the two national parties. Gandhi’s defeat from Amethi is not only a blow to the Congress which is currently trailing at 88 seats, but is also a huge shock to the Nehru-Gandhi family that had favoured the seat for the last three decades.

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