Ground Reports

Ground Report: Why Goru, And Not The Gandhis, Is Smriti Irani’s Biggest Challenge In Amethi 

Sumati Mehrishi

May 19, 2024, 08:10 PM | Updated May 22, 2024, 07:27 PM IST

Amethi MP Smriti Irani addressing fellow workers and voters (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
Amethi MP Smriti Irani addressing fellow workers and voters (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
  • Loose cattle is proving to be more of a difficulty for Smriti Irani than the Congress campaign in Amethi.
  • When Smriti Irani enters her nukkad sabha at Savnagi village of Bhadar block in Amethi, security personnel surrounding her appear to be the only placeholder of her power at the Centre. Between mud houses interspersed with jamun trees, Irani mingles and melts quickly into saris of all hues worn by the village women in her constituency. The only mention of family is that in the context of PM Modi, the voters, welfare and developmental transformation. 

    Throughout her speech, Irani’s eyes and speech remain focussed on the voter and the crux of the development brought by PM Narendra Modi, contents from the oppositions campaign, and most importantly, the Ram Mandir. Referring to the claims made by the opposition about “inverting” the progress at Ram Mandir, she says: “If they have the courage to do it, let them try to touch the flag atop the Hanumangarhi Mandir in Ayodhya...” 

    Just when she completes this sentence, someone raises the volume of the Sunderkand paatth being sung live at the nearby temple. Irani and everyone else acknowledges the warm reciprocation. Chants to Hanuman and Ram fill the nukkad sabha

    The 2024 contest

    Amethi’s soil, locals told this author, is the tough type. It is, visibly so. Suitable for growing flaxseed, wheat, rice, garlic and other crops, it requires immense hard work to nurture the crop. The political soil of Amethi is no different.  

    BJP workers at Gauriganj
    BJP workers at Gauriganj
    Smriti Irani at her campaign
    Smriti Irani at her campaign
    The Modi connect in villages
    The Modi connect in villages
    Women voters at Smriti Irani's 'nukkad sabha'
    Women voters at Smriti Irani's 'nukkad sabha'

    During different parts of the day, on different days, the Congress office in Amethi wore a deserted look until the last week of campaign. With an exception to Priyanka Gandhi who was in Raebareli visiting Amethi to campaign for Congress candidate ML Sharma, the absence of other two leaders from the family was noticed by the voters of Amethi. 

    Congress supporters among the voters are upset with Irani’s intense campaign in the different blocks of Amethi. They believe that it is Irani’s work, dominance and the victory in 2019 that compelled Rahul Gandhi to veer away from Amethi and choose Raebareli instead. 

    Rajaram, a voter said: “Gandhis were chosen, elected and selected for decades. Smriti Irani has not done anything for Amethi. Not even a bit. These roads, this hand pump here, all have come from the past. Rahul ji should have come here and fought from here. He would have won. We would make him win.” 

    When Irani won in 2019, the myth of “godlike” presence was shattered. The myth of “raj” was broken. The belief that a constituency's identity is only based on its electoral history, rather than on development and modern political culture, was dispelled.

    The Congress supporters among the voters this author met in Amethi stated that Rahul Gandhi's decision to not fight from Amethi was “wrong”. 

    They see the absence of Rahul Gandhi as the affirmation of Irani’s dominance on the Gandhi parivar’s “home” and “hometurf”. They look at it as an effect of the work triggered by Irani. Ajay Kumar Yadav, another voter, said: “Pehle ka sab Raja saab ne kiya, phir Congress parivar ne kiya. Unko hee aana chahiye thha. Yeh handpump jis-se hazaron loag paani peete hain, Congress ne lagvaya. Smriti Irani to yahan rehti bhi nahin” 

    The Clash of Traditions 

    Congress supporters are not too enthused by the candidature of ML Sharma. They acknowledge the welfare schemes brought by Modi, think that unemployment has not been addressed over the years, but believe that Amethi deserves to be in the hands of the Gandhis. 

    In 2014, Congress-supporting voters in Amethi said that there was no alternative. Ten years later, they are ready to reject any presence of change and development that has taken place in Amethi and are clear about not voting for the BJP. 

    But this clash of “traditions” triggered by Irani is nurturing her own contest. Her campaign seemed detached from the burden of plainly promising or “proving”. Her team has a list of developmental achievements in each village or block. They come handy. 

    The new tradition being set in Amethi is of development, the deliverance of government schemes centered on women, families, education and infrastructure of which Irani has an account on fingertips at each and every rally she has addressed in the constituency. The presence of a central school, a Sainik School and an industrial area is mentioned but the “lack of new factories and industries” mentioned alongside. 

    Kusum Devi, a homemaker, said that the Modi government has made sincere efforts for the poor. Her mother-in-law seems unflattered by her happiness over the arrival of Irani for a nukkad sabha in their village, but she is unrelenting and gushing.

    “I am all praises for the work of this government and the work of didi (Irani). I hold discussions with other women on the welfare schemes of the Modi government. Many do not understand what this welfare means for the people and nation. But I won't give up.” 

    Has anyone given her that responsibility from the BJP? “Not. I do it out of my own understanding of issues.”  

    Kusum Devi in her village
    Kusum Devi in her village

    Free ration received by voters is appreciated regardless of political inclination, even by those who are into farming. Improved law and order, improved electricity and water supply, assistance to farmers under Modi’s agri-policies, are mentioned as Modi’s advantages by voters. 

    When India got Independence, Ram Naresh was 15 years old and living with his parents in Lahore. He now runs a small “gumti” (a makeshift kiosk) in Gauriganj. “I have seen several governments over the last seven decades, but there is no government like the current government. It has done immense work for the poor, gives ration to the poor, and helps divyang with welfare and equipment for them. Who does that?” 

    Anchal Devi told this author: “I cook food in the village school and have seen improvement in the village and improvement in the facilities for school going children.”  

    Another women voter who did not wish to be named seemed miffed with the older women in Savnagi village. “Modi sarkar gives everything to them. They get free ration, they have got the health card, gas cylinders, and other facilities, yet they keep on complaining. We have arguments with them very often around election time. Right now, they are listening to the speeches made at the nukkad sabha. Let's see if they change their mind.” 

    When this author asked her what makes the older women upset with the Modi government, she said: “They say that the cattle eat their crops and Modi is responsible for it. How is Modi responsible for it?”     

    The Trust Thrust 

    Adding to the voter-trust is the fact that Irani not only has an address in Amethi now, but bears a voter ID card that’s used at a booth at Amethi itself. 

    Irani doesn’t stop there. She is known for connecting with families during their happy and sad moments. “Didi aati hain (she comes and visits)” is a refrain across Amethi. 

    In 2019, this author wrote about how Irani contributes to the “Vishwas ki dor” connecting Narendra Modi – at the inset of which was her carrying the dead body of a party worker on her shoulders. Over five years, Irani has preserved that aspect in her people-connection. 

    Santosh Tiwari, a farmer, told this author about the time when Irani visited their family. “My brother passed away, She came to express ‘shoka’. Dukh sukh mein aati hain.” 

    This however does not appeal to the voters who are loyal to the Congress. 

    It is Irani's success in 2019, and her dominance between 2019 and 2024 which makes them believe that Irani is in power because of malfunctioning EVM machines.

    Chintu Srivastav and his friends seem upset by the loss of Congress from Amethi in 2019 and the loss of Congress in the following polls (UP assembly 2022). “We had voted by Congress in 2014 and in 2019. It is hard to believe that Congress can lose in its own home. Irani is in Amethi only because of Narendra Modi who is responsible for tweaking the EVM machine to his own advantage because the EVM makes him win. Take the EVM away, he would lose.” 

    They are convinced that Gandhis will find a solution to youth-employment issues. 

    “Goru” And Other Complaints 

    There is one issue however which cannot be ignored when it comes to the trust factor and appreciation that people place in the state-centre partnership. The problem is “goru” – cattle – largely cows, bull and bachhras (calves). 

    Loose cattle poses problems to farmers (All images by Sumati Mehrishi)
    Loose cattle poses problems to farmers (All images by Sumati Mehrishi)

    This author was shown the spectacle by farmers herself. 

    While villagers have little control on the wild nilgai that gallop on fields, they think that the ‘goru’ issue is manageable by the BJP and expect it to fix it. 

    Kalavati Kashyap was among villagers who went for darshan of Ram Lalla at the newly built Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. "A bus was arranged and we were taken for darshan." However, there is something that makes her upset. “Goru”. 

    Some blame Yogi Adityanath for it. Others directly say, “Modi ne goru khule chhod rakhe hain (Modi has left his cattle on our fields.” The cattle belong to farmers and homes. 

    Gayaprasad, a farmer, told this author that the issue of "goru" is undoing their work as well as the work of the government. "Ek bigha fasal ek hee din mein kha jayenge. Mukhyamantri bolte hain ki goshala banaa diya. Goshala mein kaun le jata hain inko?" Gayaprasad added that the gas cylinder provided by the government (under Ujjwala) is of no use at times because they cannot shell out money for refilling it. “During such times we use the wood from trees as fuel for cooking food.”

    Niramala Kashyap said they attend meetings held for Smriti Irani and they have supported her teams, however, “goru”. 

    The cattle eats away their crops. She says: "We have a small piece of land. We grow crops thinking that we will use the yield for our children. Paanch sau goru khule hain, jis taraf jaate hain wo char lete hain. Bachta hee nahin kuchh." 

    They grow gram, arhar, wheat, paddy, etc. 

    Two: "ration is not provided regularly. The officers use our thumb for the stamp but provide ration once in two months or sometimes once in three months."

    Mithlesh Singh, a farmer in Tiwaripur, said that agriculture is in a bad state. "Those who can afford it financially have installed fences and electrical wires to ward off the cattle. Those who are poor cannot manage it. The animals remain in the field all night."

    Singh is hoping that Rahul Gandhi lives up to his promise of providing Rs 1 lakh to women per year. "He has said that unemployed youth will get jobs.” 

    Nanka Devi, a villager intervenes: "These young men just roam around the village without any work. They must get some work."   

    Kalavati Kashyap connects ration and ‘goru’. She said: "We get 5 kg ration. We are thankful for it. But what use is that ration if the cattle munch away 5 quintals of our crop in the fields? We are a family of 6-7 people. How will we manage?" 

    Shivkumar Lodhi from Jagdishpura, who was at the Mrida Pareekshan Prayogshala at Amethi, said that the government needs to improve its delivery and distribution of farmer-centric material under agri-welfare schemes. 

    “It happens that farmers with 4-5 bighas of land end up receiving material provided by the government. Small farmers end up waiting for their turns and by the time the time they think the material is about to reach them, it's all over." 

    Lodhi alleged that the BJP-led government had not done anything in five years to bring new factories to Amethi. “All these factories are pre-existing.”

    Manoj Gupta, a young farmer, seemed uncomfortable with Lodhi's criticism of the Modi government and finally broke his silence. "The Modi government is doing good work in all spheres at the national level and in Amethi. It just needs to improve its delivery system for farmers.” 

    Shiv Kumar Pal is a hawker selling freshly fried snacks and jalebi. He says: “Employment is an issue here but one has to begin work with whatever means are available. Waiting to find private or government employment makes little sense when one has to move ahead. However, I would not mind a private job."

    Some voters aligned to the Congress are not letting one question go: "Amethi chhod kar bhagna uchit hai?" Is it appropriate to leave the ground? A shopkeeper at the main chowk near the Amethi railway station rues the lack of courage in leaders who want to fight the BJP. 

    He points out that voters in Amethi are making it about trust and the lack of trust. The aspect of trust is making them judge the two candidates. “It is a lack of trust in us. If you don't trust, how and why will we trust you? He doesn't have trust in us. Parivar ka mukhiya hee poore parivar ko kuhush rakh sakta hai. He would have won from here this time.”

    It is hard for him to not refer to Raebareli and Smriti Irani: "Smriti Irani lost from here in 2014. Maidan nahin chhoda. Rahul Gandhi haare. Kyon maidan chhoda? I am not saying anything about their actions. Just ponder over these the ‘why”. 

    Why did one stay and why did one leave? This is a question that the people of Amethi are trying to answer for themselves. 

    Pyaari Devi, a voter running a small chai and snack shop, said that she is clueless about why Rahul Gandhi refused to fight from Amethi. "Unke mummy papa to lade thhe idhar se. Wo kyon nahin aaye?” When asked about the development brought by the Gandhis to Amethi, she said: “I don’t know about all that. I am busy in my work at home and shop.” 

    Irani’s consistency helps the BJP not just in Amethi, but Raebareli as well. This author has written in detail about BJP's Rae Bareli candidate Dinesh Pratap Singh here

    Singh is fighting the candidate who formerly was Irani's rival - twice. Irani’s 2019 success in Amethi is making sections of voters in Raebareli believe that Irani's feat - of trouncing Gandhi in Amethi is surely possible in Raebareli as well. 

    Irani’s own road show in Musafirganj, Yogi Adityanath’s rally, Amit Shah’s road show in Amethi, Amit Shah rally at the cusp of Amethi and Raebareli are expected to firm up her contest for a second victory. 

    While the “Rajput anger” against the BJP is back in news, this time for Amethi, Irani is expected to overcome the challenge. 

    This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on themes and topics that are often overlooked or looked down. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999/-. Click here for more details.

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