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Lok Sabha 2024: The Crumbling Citadels of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty

Even as they dismiss Rahul, voters in Raebareli seem willing to give Priyanka a chance should she contest from here.

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(This is the fifth in a series of insightful reports from the ground, titled The Race From India to Bharat. The author travels all across India as 960 million voters get ready to celebrate the largest festival of democracy in the world: the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. What do ordinary Indians think and feel about the past, present, and future of India? Are they convinced that the old fault lines are healing?)

(Read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.)

The author was taken aback by the quality of the road from Ayodhya to Jagdishpur, a town that falls in the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency. The last time I travelled through these parts in 2009, the roads were in terrible shape, cracked in various parts, and full of potholes. This time, the 65-kilometre drive from Ayodhya to Jagdishpur took less than an hour.

Bang on the main road, an erstwhile and now part-time journalist Amit Pandey operates a Suvidha Kendra that deals with Aadhar, Kisan Sammaan Doles, and other services for citizens that have gone digital. He is an unabashed Modi fan and makes it very clear right up front. “The Rahul Gandhi chapter is closed in Amethi. He will lose again and with a bigger margin if he does decide to contest again from here.”

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According to Amit, there is a palpable Ram “undercurrent” sweeping across the region and opposition parties stand no chance. At the hotel in Ayodhya where the author stayed, Harsh Tiwari was on night duty at the reception. The author had an early morning conversation with Harsh and found out that the youngster was preparing for the civil services. Harsh is very clear about his views: “What have the Gandhis done for us? I come from Jagdishpur and even getting electricity was a trouble when I was growing up. All this emotional bonding is nonsense.”

Amethi first became famous in 1977 when Sanjay Gandhi was defeated by the Janata Party candidate Ravindra Pratap Singh in the Lok Sabha elections. Since then, Amethi has been known as a bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Sanjay won the seat in 1980 and his elder brother Rajiv Gandhi won the 1981 by-election (Sanjay died in an air crash in 1980) with a staggering vote share of almost 85 per cent. He kept winning the seat till the 1991 Lok Sabha elections during which he was assassinated by an LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) suicide bomber.

The next two elections were won by the family “retainer cum loyalist” Satish Sharma. But his arrogance led voters of Amethi to defeat him in 1998. In 1999, Sonia Gandhi recaptured the family fortress with a two-thirds vote share. In 2004, she “handed over” the seat to Rahul Gandhi who duly won with a 66 per cent vote share. His vote share increased to 72 per cent in 2009, the last election in which the Congress did well in Uttar Pradesh. Though he did defeat a spirited Smriti Irani in 2014, his vote share crashed to just about 47 per cent.

The writing was on the wall, though it seems Rahul Gandhi failed to see it. In 2019, he lost to Smriti Irani who won with a near 50 per cent vote share. While many Congress supporters in Amethi still hope Rahul will contest from Amethi and Priyanka from Raebareli, most people in Tiloi, Jagdishpur, and Amethi (assembly constituencies) think Amethi at least is a lost cause for the family.

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Kaushik Gupta, an aging OBC (Other Backward Class) person who runs a small furniture shop explains why Ram Mandir is not the only factor. “Look at the evidence. Look at the facts. Go to any village here and you will find pucca houses with toilets, electricity, and gas connections, and women with Jan Dhan accounts. Many now also have tap water connections. I first voted for Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. And kept voting for the family. Three of my four children are IT professionals settled in Bangalore and Pune. What reason do I now have to vote for Rahul Gandhi?”, he asks.

Things are much better for the “Family” in Raebareli though. The author travelled through and talked to locals in Raebareli and Lalganj and found enormous love and affection for Indira Gandhi. Almost everyone the author talked to also had genuine respect for Sonia Gandhi. And they are unhappy that she will not contest this time from Raebareli.

But talk to them about Rahul Gandhi and the best responses you get are polite smiles and bemused shrugs. For some strange reason, people here seem convinced that Rahul is not serious about politics. Perhaps it is the success of sustained BJP propaganda through social media platforms. Perhaps it is his own behaviour and track record. Who knows?

Even as they dismiss Rahul, voters in Raebareli seem willing to give Priyanka a chance should she decide to contest from here. Shiv Dubey runs a small restaurant cum sweet house in Lalganj. “I have no doubt that people here will vote in large numbers for Priyanka. They still have fond memories of Indira Ji and for her sake, they will ensure 'Raebareli Ki Beti' will win. Of course, after that, it will depend on her work”.

Dubey’s family have been long-time Congress fans. But he admits that barring old voters in Raebareli, the emotional connection between the family and voters is not as strong as it used to be. In 2009, Sonia had a vote share of more than 72 per cent. By 2019, it had dipped to 56 per cent.

(Sutanu Guru is the Executive Director of the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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