Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi is in Amethi for the first time since his Lok Sabha defeat at the hands of BJP leader and Union Minister Smriti Irani. Perhaps he will take a lesson from this debacle and improve shortcomings of the Congress party.
Rahul Gandhi, on his daylong visit to Amethi, met Congress workers to ascertain the reasons behind his defeat with a margin of 55,000 votes. On Monday, in an important meeting of the Congress Sewa Dal in Lucknow, it was also emphasised that the organisational structure should be made strong once again.
The Congress had earlier also constituted a two-member panel comprising UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s representative KL Sharma and AICC secretary Zubair Khan to analyse the reasons behind the poll debacle in the Congress stronghold Amethi.
According to the report of the panel, the non-cooperation by the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party workers at the grassroots level were to be blamed for the poll rout. The SP and the BSP, which had formed an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls, did not field any candidate in Amethi in a show of tacit support to the Congress party.
As per the local leaders, the absence of a BSP candidate contributed to Gandhi’s defeat, even though he got more votes than his 2014 tally. They said that the votes from the BSP candidate’s kitty went to the BJP instead of getting transferred to the Congress. A senior Congress leader said, “The party chief had bagged 4,08,651 votes in 2014 while he got 4, 13,994 votes in 2019. Meanwhile, the BSP candidate from Amethi in 2014 had got around 57,000 votes. Interestingly, this time the margin by which Rahul Gandhi lost Amethi was around 55,000.”
Local Congress leader Yogendra Mishra also said, “The vote of the BSP instead of going to the Congress actually got transferred to BJP due to absence of any BSP candidate. The son of Gayatri Prajapati, who was the mining minister in the SP government, and SP MLA from Gauriganj Rakesh Pratap Singh, had expressed their support to the BJP. Rakesh Pratap Singh extended support to Rahul Gandhi after getting directive from the leadership but it was too late by then.” KL Sharma, refuted this justification and said that there will be further feedback sessions with workers from the Tiloi and Gauriganj segments.
Congress slept, BJP swept
At a tea shop in Jais tehsil in Amethi, a young farmer Visweshwar Verma put up a spirited defence of PM Narendra Modi’s schemes when asked why he voted for the BJP. “We received two instalments of Rs 2,000 each from the PM-Kisan scheme… he gave us Rs 4,000 (the second instalment came a few days before the day of polling). No one before him even gave us Rs 4 in our hands,” he added.
The overall consensus of the group sitting inside the tea shop is that the BJP was expected to win these elections. They said, “Man, dhan se chunav lada BJP ne… koi Kasar nahin choda (the BJP put its heart and resources to win the elections). An alert Congress should have seen it coming but they kept on sleeping.”
Brijesh Kumar, 40, a Congress party worker of Gauriganj, was fuming. He said, “Our local leaders expected to win without doing anything… there was no campaign in the villages, nor was anyone there to listen to people’s problems.” However, his biggest complaint is that the local leadership prevented workers from meeting Rahul Gandhi whenever he visited. “We could only see him from far away. We were told that a 134-year-old party will not function according to our suggestions.” The disconnect and lack of grassroots campaign also meant that the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY)—the Rs 72,000 per year minimum income guarantee scheme for the poorest which was promised in the Congress manifesto—escaped popular imagination.
According to Jay Prakash Kaushal, a resident of Gauriganj, the widening gap with the ordinary people coupled with the gate keeping by local leaders cost the Congress the crucial seat. He said, “The results will hold a mirror to Rahul Gandhi… the party should have seen this coming.”
In the 2014 general election, Rahul Gandhi’s margin of victory fell to a little over 107,000 votes from 370,000 votes in 2009. In the 2017 state assembly elections, the Congress lost in each of the five assembly constituencies in Amethi. It was nowhere to be seen during the Panchayat elections in 2018. The poor election management in Amethi is indicative of the Congress’ wider decimation in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the party witnessed a washout despite winning state elections seven months ago.
According to Akhilesh Pratap Singh, a senior Lucknow-based leader and spokesperson of the Congress, the lack of foot soldiers who could campaign for the party, coupled with the BJP’s dominance of television and social media, were major reasons for the electoral loss of the party. “We were fighting a moral battle… the (popular) support for PM Modi is grounded in astha (faith), which does not see any merit or demerit,” he said.
Youths have no attachment to history of development of Amethi
From infrastructure to restoring agricultural land, the Gandhis have indeed done a fair share of work and managed to change the face of Amethi, but the youths of today have no attachment to this history of development Amethi, said Sudhir Panwar, professor at the University of Lucknow. Panwar said “When the Jat farmer leader, Ajit Singh, lost in the 2014 general election, there was anger in the villages of western Uttar Pradesh. But after he lost this time, there is none. The same goes for the Congress in Amethi. Ordinary workers of the Congress are also deserting the party since it is not in a position to benefit them in any way.”
According to Vivek Mishra, a young booth-level worker of the BJP, dislodging Gandhi from Amethi took months of hard work. “The BJP fought these elections at a micro level as if it was Panchayat elections. We worked as social workers, helping people enrol under the Ayushman Bharat (the PM’s flagship health insurance) scheme, and ensured that farmers received the PM-Kisan money transfers.” That is not all. Polarization on religious lines was also an integral part of the election strategy. Rajwant Singht, a 65-year-old resident of Gauriganj said, “The beef eaters had to be taught a lesson… only the BJP can protect the interest of Hindus.”
Hrishik Pandey (21 years) from Pure Dhana Pandey village in Jais, voted for the first time. He said, “Hindus have been suppressed for far too long… see, Rahul also knew that he will lose, so he ran away to Wayanad (in Kerala) where Hindus are in minority… but don’t you think southern states are odd. Why did they vote the other way?”