“It is an election for the restoration of the ‘samman’ (respect) of the people of Amethi. We had made a mistake and have suffered in silence facing the arrogance of the saansad Smriti Irani,” this is the declaration of guilt of a district-level Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office bearer in Amethi’s Jagdishpur area, who prefers to remain anonymous.

Illustrating his point he said that some time ago, a BJP office bearer named Rajesh Vikram had asked Smriti Irani about the progress of the Inhauna-Rudauli road. In response she instructed the then BJP district president to tell Vikram about the progress. Vikram was immediately stripped of his post.

Giving a number of examples to illustrate Irani’s “autocratic” behaviour the local BJP workers admit that there is much anguish against her within the party, the less said about the common people the better.

“‘Police chunav lada rahi hai’ (the police are conducting the elections)” said a local youth who said he voted for the BJP in 2019. He said that the police are keeping an eye on those who they know will vote against the BJP and are questioning them about their movements, making them uneasy.

A local journalist with a Hindi newspaper alleged that every time he visits the District Congress office, the district BJP office gets to know of it, hinting at the supposed involvement of the police personnel posted at the Congress office gate.

All this has clearly contributed to a sense of dread and fear. People refuse to speak up, and claim that they have not made up their mind.

Explaining this unusual ‘chuppi’ (silence) of the common voter, an aged farmer Rajesh Shukla, sipping tea at a roadside tea shop at Jamou chauraha said: “‘Chuppi ka matlab aap samjheye. Badlav hoga’ (Decipher the meaning of silence. There will be change)”.

Shukla said this after attentively listening to a BJP office bearer and local journalist, a saffron gamcha-wearing Ramesh Chand Gaur. An active BJP activist for more than a decade, Gaur had been waxing eloquent about the achievements of sitting BJP MP Smriti Irani.

Gaur claimed that ‘didi’s’ winning margin would only increase from the 55,120 votes of 2019. He said Irani was instrumental in giving Amethi five over bridges, had spruced up the railways stations, given a 200-bed Trauma centre and so on and so forth.

If people were so happy with Smriti Irani then why are they so silent? That is when Shukla explained the significance of the voters’ silence.

Gaur leaves in a huff and others at the teashop applaud Shukla’s guts to call a spade a spade, despite the police reportedly keeping tabs on dissenters.

They point out that practising the politics of vendetta, the BJP government had closed down many institutions set up by three-time Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi. For instance, the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Information Technology, Hindustan Paper Mill, Mega Food Park, Footwear Design and Development Institute have been permanently closed down.

“The people are fighting the election in Amethi against the arrogance of sitting MP Smriti Irani”, Congress district spokesperson Anil Singh said.

There is much hustle and bustle at the district Congress office at Gauriganj. Congress workers and the red-capped Samajwadi party workers sit in a huddle chalking out their schedule. In walks an aged Congress supporter and advocate from Allahabad with an airbag hanging on his stooping shoulder. He has come to volunteer for the Congress and would stay put for the remaining days of the campaign.

Life size cutouts of former Congress Presidents Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanaka Gandhi Vadra adorn the campus. The Congress spokesperson is keeping tabs of the progress of Priyanka Gandhi’s campaign in Amethi.

Accompanied by Congress candidate K. L. Sharma, Priyanka was to hold 10 roadside meetings starting from Bhuyemau guest house at 11 am passing through Matka Pari, Kamalganj, Salon, Parashdepur, Deeh, Nasirabad, Paraiyya Namaksaar and concluding at Gandhi nagar.

But her cavalcade took more time as the crowds enthusiastically stopped her, clicked selfies, asked her questions, and in the process derailed her schedule.

She was welcomed by a team of local Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) workers when she reached Nasirabad almost two hours behind schedule. The Congress candidate Sharma briefly spoke of his association with the Gandhi family, and with Amethi which he has served for four decades.

Declaring that this was an election to uphold democracy and the Constitution, Priyanka said that the people’s wrath is not without reason. She insisted that the people should always demand accountability from their elected representatives.

Recalling her family’s century old association with the region she told the cheering crowd of how they were family and she always felt loved and needed their guidance. “When my grandmother Indira Gandhi made mistakes you defeated her. Then she thought about it, made amends and you sent her back just three years later”, Priyanka said, underlining that mistakes can be corrected.

“But the rulers of today have become so arrogant that they don’t want to be asked questions. Those who dare have to face the consequences”, she added.

Priyanka acknowledged that she was aware of the manifold problems being faced by them, mainly unemployment, rising prices, leaked papers, agricultural distress – and assured that the guarantees listed in the Congress manifesto would sincerely address them as can be judged by the working of the Congress governments in Karnataka and Telangana.

Her half hour interactive meeting ended, and she left for her next destination. As her cavalcade inched ahead the enthusiastic young crowd continued raising slogans of ‘Priyanka Gandhi Zindabad’.

Chuttan, a mother of three from Solankipura in Jagdishpur, aptly summed up the mood of the electorate. “We want respect and will vote for the party that promises us that. Nothing more is needed”.