THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 20 MARCH, 2019
Is Amethi Not ‘Safe’? Will Rahul Gandhi Follow Modi to Contest 2 Constituencies?
#TCVotes - Modi contested Vadodara and Varanasi in 2014. Again?
NEW DELHI: A second parliamentary seat for Congress President Rahul Gandhi from Karnataka? Very possible, with speculation rife after Karnataka Congress leaders started inviting him to contest the polls from the state.
Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah set the ball rolling by offering the party president a “safe seat” from Karnataka. State Congress President Dinesh Gundu Rao chimed in saying this would be in keeping with the tradition of the first family, with his grandmother and mother having contested at some point from Karnataka as well. "We invite Rahul Gandhi to contest from Karnataka in addition to Amethi. Karnataka has a strong bond with the Gandhi family having elected Indira Gandhi from Chikkamagaluru and Sonia Gandhi from Ballari," Rao tweeted.
The BJP, quite forgetting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself contested the last parliamentary polls from both Vadodara in Gujarat and Varanasi in UP, has put its trolls into action but the fact remains that in these unpredictable times most top leaders do not want to take chances. Modi is expected to contest the two seats again in these Lok Sabha elections, seeking reassurance again from Gujarat.
The difference is that Modi contested Gujarat to contain the fallout of a defeat in the untested territory of Varanasi in 2014. But if like Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president decides to opt for a second seat in Karnataka, this will be to offset a possible loss in what was till now a traditional seat for the Nehru-Gandhi family.
This raises the question: Is Amethi not a safe seat for the Congress now? Since 1981 this Lok Sabha constituency has demonstrated steadfast support for members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sanjay Gandhi had contested earlier and lost in 1977 after the Emergency, but won the seat in 1980 before he was killed in an air crash. His brother Rajiv Gandhi won the seat subsequently in all elections between 1981 and 1991, when he also died tragically. His widow Sonia Gandhi contested after a gap during which family friend Satish Sharma held the fort as it were, and won the seat in 1999. She also contested from Bellari in that year, and won against the BJP's Sushma Swaraj.
Rahul Gandhi took over in 2004 and has won Amethi through the three elections since. From a high of 71.78% of the vote share in 2009 he came down to 46.71% in 2014 with his closest rival, the BJP’s Smriti Irani securing 34.38% in what was perhaps the closest fight for a member of the Congress first family from Amethi.
This, along with the fact that four of the five Assembly constituencies (Tilon,Salon, Jagdishpur and Amethi) in this Lok Sabha seat are held by the BJP, and one (Gauriganj) by the Samajwadi Party, does not make the picture look very comfortable for the Congress in the forthcoming polls.
Irani is the BJP candidate again from Amethi. And so far the BSP and SP have not gone back on their initial decision to leave the seat for the Congress party. However, now with Mayawati visibly angered by the Congress decision not to contest just seven seats, this decision could also be under review. Although neither the BSP nor the SP have totted up impressive figures in Amethi in recent years---with the BSP candidate securing just over six per cent of the vote in 2014---if either fields a candidate it could further damage the Congress tally.
Irani has started her campaign in Amethi, with her focus being Rahul Gandhi. She is a strong orator, but at the same time she could be a case of overkill in this quiet Lok Sabha seat that has remained supportive of the Nehru-Gandhi first family. Maneka Gandhi who had contested the 1984 polls against her brother-in-law Rajiv Gandhi, was decisively shown the door by the Amethi electorate. But a great deal has changed in UP since, and the percentage of victory in 2014 as well as the 2017 Assembly results could be a signal for the declining Congress party to take on board this year. And accept Karnataka’s offer of a ‘safe’ seat.