Lucknow: The 2019 Lok Sabha elections handed an embarrassing defeat to the Congress. Nowhere was the drubbing starker than in the Gandhi family bastion Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, which then party president Rahul Gandhi lost to the BJP’s Smriti Irani. Now, it seems, one of the last bastions of the Congress is also slipping away from its grasp.
The Congress has written to the Uttar Pradesh assembly speaker to disqualify its own legislator from Raebareli, Aditi Singh, for defying the party whip and attending a special assembly session called by the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath government. Sources say two Congress MLAs from Raebareli and adjoining Harchandpur could be aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party, making things trickier for the grand old party.
Aditi is the daughter of late Akhilesh Kumar Singh, a local strongman and a five- time MLA from the Raebareli (Sadar) seat. Those familiar with the local demographics and history are aware of the kind of sway he held in the vicinity. Akhilesh’s clout was such that, of the five times, he won once as an independent and on another occasion from the little-known Peace Party.
His father, Dhunni Singh, was also a very influential figure in the area and was known for his close association with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Now, with the Congress seeking the disqualification of Aditi Singh, the party is likely to lose some ground in the region which has been represented by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi in Parliament.
The only opposition that Aditi and her father Akhilesh faced is from former Congress MLC Dinesh Singh and his brother Rakesh Singh who had switched sides to the BJP before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Dinesh was the BJP candidate from Raebareli and had contested against Sonia Gandhi but lost.
Rakesh Singh is Congress MLA from the adjoining Harchandpur constituency and he has also spoken in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi openly on many occasions. According to sources, the Congress had also sent a similar notice to the assembly speaker, seeking disqualification of Rakesh Singh, which is still under consideration.
So, with the two Congress MLAs Aditi Singh and Rakesh Singh displaying signs of dissent and rumours of them tilting towards the BJP, it will not be easy for the Congress to retain its bastion in the 2022 assembly and 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Raebareli was the lone seat from UP the Congress managed to win in this year’s parliamentary polls.
However, Congress leaders feel that it is the emotional bond of people with the Gandhi family that works in Raebareli and it will not be affected much even if any local leader switches sides. For instance, Akhilesh Kumar Singh too had rebelled against the Congress, but the Lok Sabha seat has been with Sonia Gandhi since 2004.
Speaking to News18 on the issue, Congress spokesperson Anshu Awasthi said, “First of all, the relations between the Gandhi family and Raebareli are not at all political. It is purely emotional and has been since the times of former PM Indira Gandhi. I don’t think that if anyone at local level decides to change sides, it will affect the party at the local level.”
The BJP has said that if local leaders of the Congress are leaving the party, then it raises a question directly on the top leadership. Speaking to News18, BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said, “The leaders of the Congress are abandoning their party one after another. It raises a question on the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, who is also the party chief. The Congress leaders are not ready to work under her leadership and are leaving the party.
This is a serious question on Congress party which it should find answers to within itself. The Congress leaders should stop using ‘Gandhi’ as their surnames as now they are speaking about expelling their own MLA from Raebareli, Aditi Singh, just because she went to a special assembly session called on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatama Gandhi.”
Many observers and analysts feel that the road to retain its bastion, Raebareli, will be an uphill one for the grand old party. Speaking to News18, political observer Ratan Mani Lal said, “The Congress had started losing ground in 2017 itself with the loss of connect between the locals and the party leadership which the people of Raebareli had always considered as their family.
The grassroots-level connect of the party with the people of Raebareli weakened further in the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. It is always the local leaders which take the party ahead. But suddenly they are feeling directionless with senior leaders switching sides and absence of any top leadership. Leaders like Sanjay Sinh (who has moved to the BJP), late Akhilesh Singh and now Aditi Singh have been working for the party to enthuse people and the cadres.”