Senior journalist Anant Vijay’s book ‘Amethi Sangram’ is a narrative of the meticulous planning and hard work put in by Smriti Irani into defeating then Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi
Amethi Sangram: Aitihasik Jeet Ankahi Dastan, Anant Vijay, Eka Publication, pp 240, Rs 350, Language: Hindi
The General Elections of 2019 threw up many surprises. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre retained power and increased its tally by 21 seats in the Lok Sabha. The party had won 282 seats in 2014.
The biggest surprise of all was the defeat of then Congress president Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. But, was it a surprise at all?
Senior journalist Anant Vijay’s new book ‘Amethi Sangram’ presents a detailed picture of this epic battle which took many years in the making. The author argues if one looks closely at Amethi, the most surprising outcome of 2019 election was not surprising at all but an obvious outcome of meticulous planning and hard work of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP and Smriti Irani.
Rahul Gandhi chose Amethi for his debut in electoral politics and contested the 2004 Lok Sabha election. The seat was represented in the outgoing Lok Sabha by his mother Sonia Gandhi, who shifted to the neighbouring Rae Bareli in 2004.
Amethi was branded as the VVIP seat. Rahul won the seat in 2004, 2009 and 2014 too. But, did it change the fortunes of the people in the constituency?
One anecdote from the book is enough to answer the above question. Amethi was witnessing massive power outage in 2009. When the administration did not pay any attention, people decided to take the battle on to the streets. There were massive protests in the district, but it did not get any support from the Congress. People were lathi-charged. Many development schemes for the “VVIP constituency” remained on paper only.
The Congress MLA from Rae Bareli Sadar, Aditi Singh, has rebelled against the party. She has been attacking the Nehru family for corruption for the past three years and even wrote a letter to the state Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath to investigate the Nehru family’s financial dealings in the state
The author details how an atmosphere was created about invincibility of the Nehru-Gandhi family in Amethi. But the reality was very different. The people of Amethi were vying for a change. They were not ready to carry the burden of a halo of one family at the cost of their well-being and development.
Only that this halo was never challenged seriously, the Congress’ fortress’ foundation was very weak. Smriti Irani first challenged it in 2014 but got only 23 days for campaigning. She secured more than three lakh votes.
The RSS, which was already active in the area for many years, realised that this feat could be achieved with little push.
The RSS’ Sakha’s numbering about 250 in 2014 was increased to more than 300 in the district. Parameshwar ji, former district pracharak of Amethi, was given charge of looking after the poll preparation.
How much RSS was concerned about the elections can be gauged because Krishna Gopal ji, Joint General Secretary, RSS, visited Amethi just before 2014 polls. Since then, it was a mission for the Sangh to win Amethi.
The author describes how Rahul Gandhi could never connect with the masses in his three terms as Member of Parliament of the constituency. His unpopularity was continuously growing.
There were massive protests during Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Amethi in January 2018. In the shadow of Pulwama attack, Rahul’s representative in Amethi Chandrakant Dubey was continuously providing input to the party that they may lose Amethi.
In February 2019, a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force was attacked by a suicide bomber in Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir. Fourty brave soldiers were martyred. Bharat retaliated conducting an airstrike across the border in Pakistan and destroying terror camps.
Rahul kept losing touch with his constituency. On the other hand, Smriti Irani, despite losing the 2014 poll, continued her engagement with Amethi. In a rally in October 2017 in Amethi, she announced from the stage that “the Bharatiya Janata Party will win Amethi in 2019 irrespective of who gets the party ticket”. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and then BJP president, now Union Home Minister Amit Shah were also on the stage. She defeated her nearest rival Rahul Gandhi by a margin of more than 55,000 votes.
The Congress party, fearing the worst outcome, decided to field Rahul from a safer seat of Wayanad in Kerala, too. Wayanad has 30 per cent Muslim population and 22 per cent Christian population.
The author has dedicated a full chapter to describe the unholy alliance between two regional parties of Uttar Pradesh, namely Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, and the Congress. So, both the parties either did not field any candidate against Rahul and Sonia or fielded very weak candidates.
At one point in the book, the author takes the trouble to describe how “Nehru-Gandhi family” only refers to the family of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and has nothing to do with Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. It would have been much better if the author used only “Nehru family” to refer to the first family of the Congress party.
The road to 2019 was passing through 2017 and RSS had no doubts about it. The author mentions it in passing how the Sangh has made up its mind about Yogi Adityanath much before the 2017 assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh. In a meeting in March 2016 in Goraknath Mandir in Gorakhpur, the decision was made to make Yogi ji the next Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The rest, as they say, is history.
The current session of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly is coming to an end in March next year. Something very interesting is happening in the neighbouring constituency of Rae Bareli, currently represented by Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress MLA from Rae Bareli Sadar, Aditi Singh, has rebelled against the party. She has been attacking the Nehru family for corruption for the past three years and even wrote a letter to the state Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath to investigate the Nehru family’s financial dealings in the State.
On February 9, she contributed Rs 51 lakh for the Ram Temple construction in Ayodhya and participated in the fund collection drive.
Aditi is Akhilesh Kumar Singh’s daughter, a five-term MLA from Rae Bareli Sadar, who died of cancer in 2019. Singh was a very influential local politician.
So, the most natural question to ask is, will it be Rae Bareli after Amethi?
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)