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Rahul has made inroads in Modi's Gujarat, but he's losing Gandhi family hold over Amethi

Saroj Nagi
Saroj NagiDec 09, 2017 | 09:45

Rahul has made inroads in Modi's Gujarat, but he's losing Gandhi family hold over Amethi

While aiming to win the Gujarat Assembly elections, Congress president-to-be Rahul Gandhi also needs to focus on Amethi, his parliamentary constituency, and its five Assembly segments - Tiloi, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj, Salon and Amethi - which he lost to his rivals in the 2017 Assembly and recent civic elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress has so far counted Rae Bareli and Amethi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul’s parliamentary seats, as electorally safe. But Amethi and its constituent Assembly segments in particular have, in the past few years, been sending out warning signals about their changing loyalty so much so that now there is speculation whether Rahul would contest from two constituencies or shift to a safer seat for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Of the 13 parliamentary elections and by-polls since 1977 - when his uncle Sanjay was felled by the Janata wave - Amethi has till date been represented by his mother Sonia, father Rajiv, Sanjay and family retainer Capt Satish Sharma, often with impressive and convincing margins.

But Rahul’s victory margin in 2014 was a little over one lakh - down from more than three lakhs and two lakhs in 2009 and 2004 - and that too because the Samajwadi Party helped him quash the formidable challenge posed by BJP’s Smriti Irani who post-defeat has been visiting the area far more regularly than Rahul.

rahul-priyanka_120817060933.jpgMany can recall how at a public rally during the 2012 polls, Priyanka Vadra had promised Sonia Gandhi to deliver all the 10 Assembly seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi (Credit: Reuters photo).

Though the parliamentary constituency stood by the Gandhi family, to the party’s chagrin the Assembly segments of Jagdishpur, Gauriganj, Amethi, Tiloi and Salon began to vote differently in the state and local polls. 

The recent civic elections in this VIP area in which the Congress drew a blank is only a reflection of what has been happening on the ground, especially since 1993. That was the first time the party could not open its account in these five seats. The trends since then have been worrisome for the Congress which had captured all five seats in the 1980, 1985 and 1989 Assembly polls.

Witness the electoral behavior of the five seats in the 11 Assembly polls since 1977 - the year the Congress paid a heavy price for the Emergency and was swamped by the Janata wave - to 2017:

Gauriganj: seven defeats, four victories (it lost it in the 2003 by-polls).

Salon: six defeats, five victories.

Amethi and Tiloi: six victories, five defeats.

Jagdishpur: seven victories, four defeats.

Indeed, the slide in the party’s fortunes has been particularly noticeable from 1993 - when the first state polls took place after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 - and 1996, when it became a junior partner to the BSP.

Here's a look:

Barring in 2012, Tiloi abandoned the Congress for its rivals in every election since 1993. So did Gauriganj and Salon. Gauriganj backed the Congress in 2002 and Salon did that in 2007, but they opted for  other parties in all the other state elections. Amethi, the heart of the parliamentary constituency, stood by the grand old party only twice during this period while Jagdishpur split its verdict, voting thrice each for the Congress and its rivals.

The big question then is why are Amethi and its Assembly segments straining at the Gandhi leash?

There are at least four major reasons why the constituency has been voting differently in the national and state and civic polls.

The first is the emergence of new forces and regional players challenging the national party. The Congress’s decline in the Assembly elections is proportional to the rise of caste-based sectarian parties seeking justice for their communities. The Samajwadi Party, which was established in 1992 as a breakaway faction of the Janata party, propagates the politics of OBCs; the Bahujan Samaj Party, which was formed in April 1984, espouses the cause of Dalits; the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was set up in 1980, launched a highly emotional Hindutva campaign centring around the Ayodhya dispute which led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

Between them, these parties hijacked the Congress’s social and political base and reduced it to a fringe player desperately seeking a foothold in the state it once dominated. 

The second is the Congress’s failure to focus on the organisation. Instead of strengthening the party from the ground up, it tried to take the easy way out -and paid heavily for it. The national party became a junior partner to the regional outfit, the BSP, in 1996 and contested only 126 of the 424 Assembly seats.

In the process, it lost ground, space and base to the Dalit-based party and other outfits. It has not been able to recover from this setback. Politically decapitated, it is now forced to ride piggyback on other parties which it did in 2017 again when it contested just 105 of the 403 Assembly seats in alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi party. It won just seven across the state and failed to open an account in the Amethi region.

Indeed, the last time the party crossed 30 seats was in 1996 when it had 33 legislators.

The third is the growing consciousness of the electorate to distinguish between national, state and local elections and leaderships when the choice is available. For long, the Congress has ruled both at the Centre and in the state. Although there have been occasions like 1967 when a non-Congress regime was in office in Uttar Pradesh, the link broke first in 1977 when the Janata party ousted the Congress from Delhi and Lucknow and then again in 1989 when VP Singh’s National Front ruled at the Centre and the Janata Dal in UP. Since 1989, the state government has been run either by the SP, the BSP or the BJP, with the Congress nowhere in the picture.

The changing complexion of politics showed up in the mixed outcomes in the state and local elections in the five Assembly seats in the Amethi parliamentary constituency, with the voters increasingly shutting out the Congress as an option.

The delinking of the national and regional-local polls also diluted the sheen of the Gandhi charisma. As the Congress became increasingly irrelevant in UP’s politics, the voters chose to cast their lot with the party that would determine their destinies in the state. The Gandhi brand was no longer saleable at the local levels.

Many can recall how at a public rally during the 2012 polls, Priyanka Vadra had promised Sonia to deliver all the 10 Assembly seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi. Although she camped there for almost 17 days, the Congress could win just two. In 2014, when the Congress slumped to 44 Lok Sabha seats, Rae Bareli and Amethi were the only two it could capture in Uttar Pradesh, the latter with considerable difficulty.

This has raised fears that it may be difficult for the Congress to retain Amethi in 2019, unless the party is able to recover lost political ground, win Gujarat and put up a good show in the 2018 Assembly polls in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

The moot point then is why didn’t the Congress take urgent corrective measures when the warning signs began flashing in its bastion? 

This is essentially because in the 10 years of the Congress-led UPA rule from 2004-14 at the Centre, instead of rebuilding the organisation from the grassroots, party chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was busy with three things: steering the policies of the Manmohan Singh government, grooming Rahul and building linkages with allies. Indeed, it appeared that the leadership seemed to focus on strengthening the coalition bonds at the Centre while leaving the states to UPA constituents like the RJD in Bihar, the Left in West Bengal, the SP (which bailed out the Manmohan Singh government when the Left withdrew support in 2008) in Uttar Pradesh or the DMK in Tamil Nadu.

As a result, when the Congress lost at the Centre, the organisation tottered. 

Last updated: December 09, 2017 | 09:45
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