On A Bus from Lucknow to Amethi
#TCVotes - Smriti Irani is seen as a good and hardworking candidate, unlikely to win
LUCKNOW-AMETHI: It’s seven in the evening, the threshold of dusk. Another day passes for the hundreds of commuters from neighbouring areas who have come to Lucknow in search of work.
I stand with other commuters waiting for the next roadways bus to depart for Amethi. As soon as I start a conversation to gauge these voters’ mood, one calls out from behind – “Baitho bhaiya bus chhut jawi” – Get in brother or we’ll miss the bus.
Sweating, visibly tired, these commuters are in a hurry to reach their homes before setting out for another journey to Lucknow the next morning. For most people travelling on the bus between Lucknow and Amethi, it’s not than a journey between two prominent parliamentary constituencies, it’s their life’s rhythm.
The bus carries what I know as the lower middle class, workers, students, women and others who come to Lucknow every day chasing their dreams, or to meet the daily requirements needed for running a family.
Amethi, the final stop, goes to polls on May 6. The high-profile constituency is to witness a contest between Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani. Irani gave the Gandhi scion a run for his money in the 2014 election, and has since been working hard in the constituency to win its people’s confidence.
Locals on board the bus believe that Amethi is not the Congress stronghold it used to be, but that it’s still difficult to unsettle the Nehru-Gandhi family from here. Those who say they will vote for Irani put in a disclaimer, that the contest is close but Rahul will win, because here the caste arithmetic matters more than anything else.
So the general consensus is, while Smriti Irani is good and is working hard in the constituency, she will find it difficult to unseat Rahul Gandhi from here.
Conductor Anil Mishra, a veteran of swiftly handling the buses, passengers and cash, likes the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi parivar or family. “Unbeatable here.”
For Shakti Gupta, a student who attends management classes in Lucknow, it’s essentially Smriti. But he maintains it’s unlikely she will be able to defeat Gandhi.
Ilyas Khan and Dara Singh, who work at a government office in Lucknow and are frequent travellers on this bus, support Rahul. “We have been voting for the Gandhis for long, and not just because they come from a political family representing our constituency for ages. They have embraced the Amethi walas as their own,“ says Singh.
Sunita, who sells used clothes near the Lucknow Railway Station, maintains that she likes Smriti Irani as a leader and minister, but has no reason to “betray” the Gandhis for whom they have been voting for so long.
“It’s a very tricky situation, Smriti ji comes here very often, interacts with us, listens to the locals here, but we have nothing against Rahul Gandhi or his family, they have been good to us. And it’s not good to betray people who are good to you,” Sunita explains with a smile.
Among the many who come to Lucknow to work shops, small industries and the IT sector, there is a feeling that the current dispensation has been trying wipe out institutions in the region set up by the Congress, and is hence causing joblessness.
According to Sanjay Yadav, “We come to Lucknow to work only because the BJP government is not letting the institutions and industries set up by the Gandhi family run properly. The BJP reduced the capacity of a proposed new AIIMS in Rae Bareilly. A paper mill was shelved.
“This kind of vendetta politics is not good for our country and democracy.”
These criticisms make supporters of the BJP and Smriti Irani a little uncomfortable, and they open up to defend her.
22-year-old engineering student Rajesh Gupta says that these are just excuses to defend the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s failure. “They haven’t been able to create employment in Amethi and now they blame the BJP for it. These are excuses.
“The fact is they don’t care about development and only believe in the politics of caste and appeasement.”
Gupta’s sentiments are reiterated by Anushul Mishra, another student, who says that Modi has been able to improve India’s global image.
By journey’s end it seems as if the Congress has been able to retain its traditional support of poorer communities and disprivileged sections in Amethi, but that there is another lot that looks at Irani as a promising new face.
45-year-old Renuka Singh who is a government official says emphatically that Irani is a better candidate than Gandhi, and has worked hard to be where she is. Yet she maintains that for now at least the mood is in Gandhi’s favour, and Irani might have to wait for another five years to unseat him.
“There is a lot of support for Irani from young and educated people in the region, but since these elections are fought more on the basis of caste and religion, Rahul Gandhi has an edge. Still, people like me will vote for Irani irrespective of the result.
“So what if she loses? At least she’s daring to put up a fight,” says Singh.
As the bus reaches Amethi, an elderly voice from the driver’s cabin requests people to deboard and get some rest, before coming out for work again tomorrow.
“Ab utar jawa bhai log, na Rahul aiyen, na Irani khilane ko, kal subah phir kam pe jana hai.“ Now get down brothers, neither Rahul nor Irani will come and feed you. Tomorrow morning you'll have to go to work again.