The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has sounded the battle cry for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, with its unofficial candidate, poet Kumar Vishwas, taking on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in the latter’s backyard. Perhaps the party wants to repeat what it did in the New Delhi constituency in December 2013 when Arvind Kejriwal challenged three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit in her backyard and won by an overwhelming margin.
But AAP is unlikely to win in Amethi, say locals. Voters here feel strongly about the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has brought them recognition, and so they do not want to vote against the Congress. “When we go to other states, people recognise us for being a part of the Gandhis’ electoral territory,”says Brajesh Tiwari, a resident of Zias village in Amethi.
“There is a psychological and emotional attachment that we share with the family,” says Dinesh Mishra, a shopkeeper from the same village.
Amethi’s Lok Sabha seat comprises four towns, two municipal councils and multiple villages. Since 1980, Amethi has always elected a Congress candidate as its representative in the Parliament (except in 1998, when BJP’s Sanjay Singh was the MP for a year). In 1999, Amethi elected Congress president Sonia Gandhi and since 2004, they gave the baton to her son Rahul.
“People, such as Vishwas, come here just to get publicity,” says Abhishek B Singh, a hotel owner at Amethi. “Amethi is not Delhi, where anyone can come and loot its treasure.”
Despite having pitched his tents in Amethi, Vishwas continues to be an outsider for the locals. He has been meeting people and holding rallies, hoping that talking about poor infrastructure, prolonged power cuts, closed factories and high unemployment will sway the voters. But these issues have failed to shake the faith of the electoral constituents. Less than 100 people attended Vishwas’ meetings in Amethi last week.
The area’s Congress and BJP leaders feel that AAP’s Delhi formula will not work in Amethi, or for that matter in Rae Bareilly, represented in the Lok Sabha by Sonia. “Here, people vote for the family they are attached to,” says Amethi district Congress president Yogender Mishr. “Vishwas is a very small name in this political arena. When people like Sharad Yadav and Raj Mohan Gandhi have failed to carve their ground here, Vishwas stands no chance.”
BJP leaders say AAP has a bleak prospect in Amethi as this is a largely rural seat, and AAP is mostly popular in urban areas. “For the villagers, corruption and unemployment are not issues,” says former BJP MLA from Amethi Tej Bhan Singh. “People here feel satisfied when they see a mere road connecting their village and if their homes get electricity for a few hours. Talk of anti-corruption sells in cities, not here.”
Interestingly, during the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the Samajwadi Party had won three of Amethi’s five assembly seats. “We vote for the candidates. People were not happy with Congress candidates and so they gave their mandate,”says Kamal Raman Pandey of Amethi’s Zamo village. “But if we have Rahul Gandhi, we cannot vote for someone else.”