Amethi, seen as the Gandhi family's pocket borough, is seething with anger. This Lok Sabha constituency in the Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh has since 1977 never been as angry with a Gandhi as it is with Rahul, the scion of the family and the incumbent MP. Amethi voted his father Rajiv Gandhi four times (1981 to 1991) and mother Sonia in 1999.
"This time we want to teach Rahul a lesson for ignoring us and taking Amethi for granted," says Sarwar who has been looking for a job for a couple of years. About five young men gathered at the tea shop join him and shout down Taj Mohammad, who tries to counter him. "He supports Rahul because he takes commission to arrange for a handshake with him," alleges Sarwar as they break into a hearty laugh. Are they going to work to defeat Rahul? "We don't want to see him lose but we will ensure that his vote tally sinks so low that he is shamed into introspection and doing something worthwhile for Amethi, announces Sarwar to a visiting correspondent.
For Rahul Gandhi, a mere win from Amethi, a Congress citadel and the chosen electoral battle ground for his uncle Sanjay, father Rajiv and mother Sonia for decades will be nothing to gloat over. His political reputation depends on the margin with which he can defeat his main opponent, Smriti Irani of the BJP, a well known TV actor turned politician. "Rahul will get at least 100,000 votes less than what he last polled," predicts an old resident of Amethi who does not want to be named. "I am an old Congress worker from the days of Rajiv. Amethi smelt like chandan (sandalwood) during the Rajiv era. Now it is smelling garbage". In a scathing criticism of Rahul's style of functioning he says: "Rahul has not connected with the people of Amethi. His father was emotionally connected though he stayed in far away Delhi".
Lack of access to Rahul has annoyed the Amethi voter. "He has an office in Munshiganj in the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital. He comes here once in every two to three months and he only meets select party workers and his office in-charge Chandrakant Dubey", says Arif. "A mere wave from a SUV is not enough. He must learn that he is not a king and we his obedient subjects. This feudal manner is unacceptable to the youth."
Rahul's supporters point to the Pilot Training Institute as a development initiative by him. But Amethi is not impressed. The people here say they cannot afford to send their boys there. Instead they need primary schools.
Old timers like Atul Singh, a farmer, are traditional Congress voters and will continue to be so in this election too. But he is also disgruntled. According to him, Amethi, which has alkaline soil, is in urgent need of water. "It is a fact that only 30 of the 100 hand pumps work". Still, Atul feels Amethi will go with Rahul "because of the love we have for his father. He is will get votes as compensation". A large chunk of women voters (679,304) and the youth amongst a total of 1.4 million voters are contemplating a shift to the BJP. However, the Muslims who are in a majority in the Amethi constituency, confess they face a dilemma. "We don't want the BJP to win and we are angry with the Congress. Who should we vote for? Finally it will have to be the Congress," says a resigned Saharuddin.
Sonia Gandhi's plea for votes for her son at an April 19 rally in Nandmehar, her first in 10 years, a road show by Rahul accompanied by sister Priyanka and her husband Robert Vadra have left Amethi cold. "Priyanka is arrogant and her husband is corrupt. She thinks by sharing a roti (bread) with a poor woman she will impress us," feels Sarwar. Amethi has been ignored by the family. But it will still stand by it. The people here feel that the Gandhi's have at least made Amethi into a "VVIP constituency" and without their patronage it will disappear into anonymity and sink further into poverty. Amethi votes May 7 in the penultimate round of the 10-phased Lok Sabha polls that began April 7 and will conclude May 12. The results will be declared May 16.
Besides Rahul Gandhi, others in the fray are Smriti Irani (BJP), Kumar Vishwas (AAP) and Dharmendra Pratap Singh (BSP). The SP did not field a candidate in a tacit understanding with Congress. In 2009 Rahul Gandhi polled 464,195 votes with 17.78 % of voters. BSP which was second had 14.54% of the vote share.