What is happening to the iconic electoral bastions of the Congress - Raebareily and Amethi, and the Bhartiya Janata Party’s Ayodhya? Raebareily and Amethi are represented by the Congress’ first family, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi respectively whereas Ayodhya is famous for Lord Rama’s temple and the constituency is an identity symbol around which much of BJP politics revolves, especially after the demolition of the disputed structure in December 1992.
The Raebareilly Lok Sabha seat had traditionally been represented by the Gandhi family - earlier by Feroz Gandhi in 1952 and 1957, later by Indira Gandhi in 1967, 1971 and 1980 and by Sonia Gandhi since 2004. However, Congress has been losing clout at the assembly level.
Raebareily has six assembly seats - Bachharawan, Harchandpur, Raebareli, Salon, Sareni and Unchahaar. In 2012, Congress lost all assembly seats except Tiloi that was won by Dr Muhammed Muslim.
The Samajwadi Party won the remaining seats except for Raebareily Sadar, which went to Akhilesh Singh, a Peace Party candidate, despite extensive campaigning by Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi against him. Akhilesh had earlier won as independent in 2007 and as Congress candidate thrice - in 1993, 1996 and 2002. Akhilesh Singh has the image of a bahubali (mafia don) and had represented Raebareily sadar for the last 24 years, but due to bad health, fielded his daughter Aditi Singh this time, who is contesting on Congress ticket.
Aditi Singh is in the contest with BJP’s Anita Srivastava and BSP’s Shahbaaz Khan. Aditi has obtained her degree in management from North Carolina’s Duke University, USA. As her father had become a bitter critic of Gandhi family in Raebareily, they had been trying to woo Aditi for along. Aditi joined Congress in August 2016, is close to Priyanka Gandhi, and is almost sure to win given his father’s clout. So, Congress is trying to enter Raebareily assembly seat through a backdoor.
Amethi is another bastion of Gandhi's. Amethi parliamentary constituency was represented by Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 and, after his sudden death, by Rajiv Gandhi from 1981 to 1991, by Sonia Gandhi from 1999-2004 and since then by Rahul Gandhi. Amethi has four assembly constituencies: Tiloi, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj and Amethi Sadar and at two places, Amethi Sadar and Gauriganj, both SP and Congress contested against each other despite coalition.
In Amethi, the bastion of its notional king Sanjay Singh, Congress is losing at assembly level. This time, Sanjay Singh’s wife Amita Singh (Congress) is pitted against his estranged first wife Garima Singh who is contesting on BJP ticket. Thus, it is a Rani versus Rani contest. Amita Singh had been MLA twice once on Congress ticket in 2007 and earlier in 2002 on BJP ticket. Garima does not speak in rallies, only her son and daughter speak for her; she only seeks people's blessings for justice and is supported by the BJP’s organisational unit. Though BJP’s vote share in Amethi had been very poor, yet Garima Singh’s campaign seeking justice and vote has won over the voters, especially those from Gond community who are in great numbers in the constituency.
The SP candidate from Amethi Gayatri Prajapati is the ill-famed party MLA and minister in Akhilesh cabinet against whom an FIR was filed, at the directions of the Supreme Court and recently a warrant of arrest has been issued. Gayatri is absconding, though earlier Akhilesh Yadav campaigned for him in Amethi.
When Akhilesh Yadav rallied for Prajapati, the latter was signalled not to be present on occasion. That itself demonstrated how the party leadership is defensive about the minister. Though Prajatai had done lots of work in Amethi, he annoyed the Yadav clan who helped him win elections. His falling reputation may also be a factor in his defeat this time.
Faizabad district has five assembly segments which is, Rudauli, Milkipur, Bikapur, Gosaiganj and Ayodhya. But, Ayodhya is crucial for BJP and had been with the party for a long. But, 2012 was a sudden jerk when it’s five times MLA Lallu Singh lost to SP’s Pawan Panday by a narrow margin of 5405 votes. BJP has brought in a new candidate Ved Prakash who defected from BSP to BJP. Ayodhya also becomes interesting as BSP has given ticket to a Muslim, Bazmi Siddiqui, for the first time and there are 35,000 Muslim voters in the constituency; if one adds up Dalit votes, then the victory target for BSP could come within firing range. In 2012, Pavan Pandey had won the seat by securing only 55000 votes. As voters’ turnout percentage this time was slightly lesser than 2012, so the Dalit-Muslim combine could easily hit winning target provided Dalits vote en bloc for Muslim BSP candidate.
The common cord in Raebareily and Amethi is that at both the places the SP-Congress alliance failed. There were many fights between SP-Congress in these two districts. And, surely, these fights were not that friendly. Otherwise, there are diminutive chances of Congress making any comeback in these three districts of Raebareily, Amethi and Faizabad at the assembly level. That has brightened chances of the BJP candidates in several constituencies.
A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.
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