Rahul's Absence, 60 Amethi Trips: In Garden of Dying Hopes, How Smriti Irani Silently Planted & Nurtured Lotus

Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani is welcomed by the students as she arrives to attend an educational event (File photo: PTI)

Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani is welcomed by the students as she arrives to attend an educational event (File photo: PTI)

The Congress, in its defense may cry about misuse of government machinery, the bitter truth is the constituency could have been managed had the party worked systematically trying to match the BJP's organisational ground work.

Pranshu Mishra
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As BJP basks in glory of a spectacular win, its fest has been glorified even more with Smriti Irani’s victory in Amethi. Her astonishing win against Congress president Rahul Gandhi has caught worldwide attention and brought back memories of the late Indira Gandhi’s defeat by socialist Raj Narayan in 1977. But more than reminding people of Narayan, Irani had more been a baghban (a gardener), who after years of hard work now tastes the fruit of her efforts.

In contrast to her perseverance and hard work in Amethi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi probably left his constituency in inefficient hands. The care takers he relied upon failed to deliver.

Not only there is immense anger against some of those who represented Rahul in his constituency, there is also a rising sense about changing narrative on the ground. Name and family ties alone do not matter, leaders need to address the rising aspirations of the masses.

Unlike Raj Narayan who shot to fame in 1977’s post-emergency elections by challenging and defeating the then sitting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Raebareli, Smriti Irani’s moment of spectacular fame had come after walking down a long and a tedious path.

While Raj Narayan had conquered Raebareli riding on immense anger against Indira, who was often equated to being “India” by her supporters. Narayan had no major connect with the constituency before that. Unlike him, Smriti actually toiled hard in Amethi since she was launched here first in 2014.

No doubt, she was duly rewarded by her party for the challenge she had put to Rahul Gandhi in 2014 general elections. But despite being given a prominent position in Modi cabinet, her eyes remained glued on Amethi. As she told to News18 post her victory: “In 2014 itself I had got a sense that Amethi could be won. My organization had set a task for me and I was committed to fulfill it.”

While Smriti continued to patiently nurture Amethi, obviously with all possible help from her party, the Sangh Parivar and governments, both at state at the center, there could also be no questions about her personal efforts. So when BJP’s spokesperson in Amethi, Govind Singh, reminds that she came to the constituency for around 60 times in five years from 2014 to 2019, it should not be a surprise.

During this period while BJP as a party worked on ground to strengthen the organisation, slowly chipping into Congress’s core constituency of the Dalits and the Backwards in the region, Smriti Irani continued to be an able commander cementing the ties with workers and the common voters. Her communication skills, ability to connect with grass root workers came as an added boon for her party.

While the government machinery were duly put into action ensuring deliver-ability of welfare schemes on the ground, Smriti continued to be the face nurturing the constituency. In contrast, the Congress seemed to be in continued slumber, relying solely on notion of the “Gandhi connect” and region being a “family bastion”.

First signs of alarm echoed in 2017 assembly polls when BJP won four out of the five assembly constituencies of the Amethi parliamentary seat. While Tiloi, Salon, Jagdishpur and Amethi Vidhan Sabha seats were won by the BJP, Gauriganj seat was won by the Samajwadi Party.

But BJP’s increasing footprints in the region failed to give Congress a jolt. While BJP continued mounting on the campaign of “Missing MP” against Rahul, the Congress party failed to come forward with an aggressive counter reply.

As a senior Congress leader from the constituency, not willing to be quoted, says, “Idea about invincibility of Gandhi phenomenon was so entrenched that continuous slide of the political hold, was just thought be a momentary phenomenon, that would be countered once Rahul Gandhi will re-enter the electoral fray.”

However, crucial time was lost during the past five years. As Rahul remained occupied with party’s efforts across the country, Amethi was ignored. Adding to woes was the fact that his commanders on the ground remained equally unconcerned. A senior party functionary says, “Those entrusted of being a bridge between Rahul ji and his constituency actually became a road block between him and the party workers”.

Congress’s common workers and leaders in Amethi are now seething in anger against likes of Chandrakant Dubey, who had been Rahul’s representative in the constituency. Post-poll debacle, allegation is that he and many others didn’t listen to their party workers, antagonised them and often led to party sympathisers going the other way.

While Yogendra Mishra, the Amethi district president of the Congress party, has offered his resignation taking moral responsibility of the defeat, the responsibility factor doesn’t end here. The biggest culprit had been the Gandhis themselves, who failed to judge the BJP and RSS onslaught well in time.

From strategy to management and candidate’s own personal connect, BJP had outsmarted the Congress on all fronts in Amethi. Proof of it is the fact that Rahul didn’t even win a single assembly segment in this election. While overall victory margin for Smriti was slightly above 55,000, there was never a moment when Rahul had a lead in even any of the assembly areas.

In Gauriganj assembly segment, Smriti won by 19,974 votes, in Jagdishpur her lead was 17,914, in Tiloi assembly, she won by 15,1014, in Salon she defeated Rahul by 1,910 votes. In Amethi assembly segment, she led by 230 votes. Naturally, BJP seems to have worked uniformly across each vidhan sabha area of the Amethi parliamentary constituency.

The fact that Smriti in her win was able to garner around 50% of the vote polled. Her vote share being 49.70% as compared to Rahul’s 43.90 further indicates how she got support from all sections of the society, including the upper castes, backwards and Dalits. This despite BSP and SP not contesting in Rahul’s favor and BSP chief Mayawati even making an open appeal to her cadres for supporting Rahul Gandhi.

In the constituency, which has around 29% Dalit voters, 24% OBC, 19% of the Upper castes and around 15% Muslim voters, Smriti’s victory signals deep penetration which her party has made among the poor comprising mostly Dalits and backwards.

Congress in her defense may cry about misuse of government machinery or use of money, the bitter truth is the constituency could have been managed had the party worked systematically trying to match the BJP’s organisational ground work and candidate’s personal efforts.

Rahul Gandhi’s decision to simultaneously contest from Wayanad in Kerala, also didn’t go down well with the masses. BJP was able to build on the narrative of “Rahul being insecure in Amethi and looking for a safe seat”. Though on the record, Congress continues to justify it as strategy of southward push, which probably also paid dividends in party’s fantastic performance in the southern state.

However, in off record admission, reliable Congress leaders in Amethi do accept that party’s top leadership, including Rahul and Priyanka did get the sense of Amethi no longer being a safe seat, as the count down for battle of 2019 had started.

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