After thrashing the Congress in neighbouring Amethi, the BJP is working flat out for a win across the assembly segments in Rae Bareli — the only citadel left of the Gandhi family in Uttar Pradesh. The ruling party appears to have worked to a plan, beginning with the weaning away of Congress MLC and MLAs.
Rae Bareli was the only Lok Sabha seat won by the Congress in 2019 in UP even as the all-important Amethi constituency fell to the BJP with Smriti Irani defeating top leader Rahul Gandhi. In the 2017 assembly elections, only two Vidhan Sabha seats, Rae Bareli (Sadar) and Harchandpur, remained loyal to the Congress. They were won by Aditi Singh and Rakesh Singh for the party.
Both winners from the last time have now switched sides to the BJP and have been fielded against the Congress from the same seats. Besides Rae Bareli (Sadar) and Harchandpur seats, Rae Bareli has four assembly constituencies — Bachrawan (Reserved), Saraini, Uchahar and Salon (Reserved).
Bachrawan, Saraini and Salon were won last time for the BJP by Ram Naresh Rawat, Dhirendra Bahadur Singh and Dal Bahadur, respectively. Uchahar was bagged by Samajwadi Party’s Manoj Kumar Pandey. The Congress and the SP had contested the 2017 assembly polls as allies, but are no longer together.
The Congress claims that whatever development has taken place in the constituency has been during the UPA government, a boast countered by the BJP. “During 2004 -2014, the then UPA government had given projects worth over Rs 12,500 crore projects to Rae Bareli, Congress spokesman Vinay Dwivedi claimed.
He mentioned a women’s hospital, AIIMS, five national highways and the Rail Coach Factory, saying they provided employment to the local people. In the past over seven years, the BJP cannot cite any new project here, or even in Amethi,” he told PTI. Rakesh Singh, who is fighting the election as BJP nominee this time from Harchandpur, claimed that the bond that the local people had with the Gandhi family once has weakened over time — and there is a growing disconnect now.
He dismissed the importance of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress general secretary leading the party’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh. “Priyanka is no factor in Rae Bareli. She might have a presence elsewhere but people have not seen her coming here, except during election time. The Gandhi family has failed to give development to the area or sustain the emotional bond it had with the people of the constituency,” Singh said.
He claimed that most of the industries set up during Indira Gandhi’s time have closed down, and projects like the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Academy did not benefit the local youth. “It will be a direct BJP-Samajwadi Party contest on all the seats. The Congress’ time is over and it will only get 10,000 to 12,000 votes on every seat, on some of them it might also lose its deposit,” he said.
BJP district president Ram Dev Pal said his party has been working hard in Rae Bareli all through and has made gradual progress every election. This time it will win all the six seats, and there is no doubt about it. As of now we are concentrating on the 2022 assembly elections and after that it will be Mission 2024 for us,” he said, referring to the next Lok Sabha polls.
He claimed that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has not come to the constituency after winning last time and people would like to have a representative who has a presence here. Unlike Amethi, where the party had to bring a national level leader in Smriti Irani to win the seat, BJP leaders claimed they will not require any big name to challenge Sonia Gandhi in 2024. She faced a tough fight last time against MLC Dinesh Pratap Singh, who had left her party to join the BJP.
Sonia Gandhi had retained her Lok Sabha seat in 2019 defeating Dinesh Pratap Singh by 1.6 lakh votes, the lowest victory margin in 15 years. In 2014, she had won by a margin of 3.5 lakh votes, in 2009 by 3.7 lakh and in 2004 by 2.4 lakh. In the 2006 by-election, her victory margin was 4.1 lakh votes.
“The opposition to Sonia Gandhi here is because she is an outsider and people want a local who is there for them. If he fights again, Dinesh Pratap Singh will win from here,” Rakesh Singh, who is the 2019 winner’s brother, said. The Congress has fielded Surendra Vikram Singh, an SP turncoat, from Harchandpur against Rakesh Singh. It is yet to finalise a nominee on Sadar seat against Aditi Singh.
Five of the assembly seats in Rae Bareli will go to the polls in the fourth phase on February 23. In Salon, polling is on February 27.