Whether or not Rahul or any other member of the Gandhi family campaigns in Varanasi, the constituency from where the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is seeking to enter the Lok Sabha, Narendra Modi seems to have taken Amethi by storm. By all accounts, Modi’s rally on Monday in Amethi, from where Rahul Gandhi is seeking re-election, was a huge success. It was a campaign coup that left his rivals stunned. And it further pepped up the prospects of the BJP candidate Samriti Irani giving the Congress scion a close fight. Whether or not she is able to defeat him will be known only on May 16, but it is clear that the Modi rally has helped her convert a large number of Amethi voters to her cause. Hitherto no senior opposition figure had cared to seriously challenge the control of the Gandhis on the twin constituencies of Amethi and Rai Bareily. Barring the extraordinary post-Emergency election of 1977, when both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were humiliated in their pocket-boroughs, Amethi and Rai Bareily have remained loyal to the Gandhis. You would have assumed that these two constituencies would be the most developed as a result of the long-standing loyalty they had shown towards the ruling Congress family. But, by all accounts, Amethi and Rai Bareily figure among the most backward constituencies in UP. Various central projects located there have failed to lift the socio-economic profile of the local people. Most of these projects are non-functional; others find themselves forcibly thrust in a far-flung area where both logistics nor infrastructure are conducive. Yet, on paper, there are several central projects located in the two pocket-boroughs of the Gandhis. Indeed, the MPs from the two constituencies have treated their constituents so cavalierly that only time they favour them with a visit is on the eve of the five-yearly elections. It is notable that whatever his other failings, and there certainly are a lot, over the years Sharad Pawar has changed the face of his Lok Sabha constituency of Baramati. Even if he has stood down this election in favour of his daughter, Supriya Pawar, one cannot see much problem the voters in Baramati recognising the good work down by him over the years to reach them the gains of development. It helped that Maharashtra was always better run and better developed that the backward UP. But Pawar is not in the same league as the Gandhis. Now, it may be well that the economic backwardness of the two constituencies is part of a diabolic scheme which envisages that an economically empowered voter can no longer be taken for granted.
Education is the best antidote against feudalism, against the ‘mai baap syndrome’ prevailing in a democracy. The Congress over the years had relied on the dirt poor for sustaining itself in power. Once the poor got the benefits of education, employment and political awareness they ceased to be the captive vote-bank of the Family. Hence, the rise of the regional parties such as the BSP, the SP, etc. Amethi and Rai Bareily have hitherto remained insulated from the electoral winds blowing elsewhere in UP. But following the spirited challenge mounted by Smriti Irani and AAP’s Kumar Vishwas, the winds of change might be blowing in Amethi as well. Nobody can say that Rahul will not win, but the possibility of his losing cannot be completely ruled out, either. That will be the Crown Prince’s first-hand brush with real democracy. It will be good for him and for democracy. Let him realise that one can no longer take the people for granted even in one’s own family bastion of Amethi. Name and fame is no substitute for real development, real work.