The way my father was dedicated to the welfare of people of Amethi, my brother, too, is committed, said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as she tried to strike an emotional chord with the voters.
Sitting MP and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is seeking to defend his turf and win the Amethi seat for the fourth time. His main challenger is Union minister Smriti Irani, who brought down Rahul’s victory margin to just over a lakh in 2014.
Priyanka’s canvassing for her brother centred on emotion as she went around greeting locals, addressing them as “family members” and recalling the old days when her father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, used to represent Amethi.
“I used to come here with my father as a 12 year old. I have seen this arid land turn green after my father came here. The way my father was dedicated to the people of Amethi, my brother is also committed,” Priyanka told the people.
Campaigning for the seat ended Saturday for the May 6 elections.
Charges have been flying thick and fast with the Congress accusing the BJP of trying to bribe voters and the BJP slamming the grand old party for taking the segment for granted.
While campaigning for her brother, Priyanka said, “I am sending the Congress manifesto in an envelope to the people. They are sending you Rs 20,000 each. They think they can buy you with votes. They are mistaken. I have learnt so much from you.”
“Smriti Irani comes here and distributes shoes and sarees. She should come and beg for votes rather than distribute you shoes. I also want to ask if the BJP is so concerned about Amethi, why did they wind up projects which Rahul Gandhi initiated,” Priyanka asked the crowds across Amethi.
The BJP, on the other hand, flagged Congress’s dynastic politics as the bane of Amethi and sought to woo locals with development.
“Where was the absentee MP when 10 Amethi villages caught fire recently? He abandoned you even after winning the seat in 2014 whereas I stood by you even after losing,” Irani told people as she exuded confidence that they will “teach the absentee MP a lesson for ignoring his constituency for 15 years”.
Irani also aggressively flagged her rival’s fight from a second segment, Wayanad in Kerala, as a sign of his defeat in Amethi during her campaigning.
“Absentee MP has already given up on you and run away to Kerala,” she told people highlighting central schemes on public toilets, LPG connection, and housing in her bid to attract votes.
To the women of Amethi, Irani has promised sugar at Rs 13 a kg and to voters she has pledged development calling out the slogan ‘Phir ek baar Modi sarkar’.
As titans clash in this largely underdeveloped area, some locals see Amethi and the Gandhis as inseparable, while others are willing to shun old loyalties and seek new horizons.
Amethi is still awaiting fruits of development so much so that a cluster of local villages is considering to boycott elections over an old unfulfilled promise of a rail under bridge in the Amethi town.
“We have been demanding a rail under bridge at an unmanned rail crossing for decades. Even in the last election we had threatened a boycott but Rahul Gandhi told us he will help. Nothing has moved. We feel betrayed,” said Surinder Singh of village Birahimpur, where locals have resolved to boycott the May 6 poll.
According to Mumtaz Khan, an ex-village head of Raydepur, the fight for an under bridge started in 1987 and people are dejected enough to consider a boycott.
“We are a VIP segment yes but we are fed up now,” he rued as the segment wears a desolate look bereft of finesse that should have been attached with such a seat.
That said, generational loyalty for the Gandhis remains a factor here with some locals indicating that despite lack of development, Rahul Gandhi was likely to be voted back.
For Uma Shankar Pathak, an old timer, “The Nehru family gave this place its identity though there has not been adequate development.”
According to another local Bhola Nath, “For the sake of the Gandhi family’s legacy, people may still vote for Rahul Gandhi here.”
A section of people disagree and feel the competition this year is cut throat and anything can happen.
“It is a very close contest and nothing can be said. This time the Gandhis are campaigning much harder than before and their anxiety is visible,” said Mahesh Jaiswal of Amethi.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and OBC leader Tamradhwaj Sahu, besides Ghulam Nabi Azad and others also campaigned for Rahul.
The BJP also gave a final push to its campaign with Amit Shah holding a road show for Smriti on Saturday and Yogi Adityanath holding rallies earlier.
Another local Shiv Kumar said, “Earlier, the Gandhis would only come to file the nomination. This time they are spending much more time in Amethi because they know Smriti Irani is a tough challenger.