Congress seeks to protect Rae Bareli bastion, eyes bigger victory margin with SP on its side

The Congress is leveraging its decades-old ties in Rae Bareli through a series of nukkad meets, but is also counting on SP’s local organisational support and the social and caste arithmetic to work in favour of nominee Rahul Gandhi

Updated - May 18, 2024 02:31 am IST

Published - May 17, 2024 10:23 pm IST - RAE BARELI

Congress leader and party candidate from Rae Bareli constituency Rahul Gandhi with party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and party candidate from Kannauj constituency Akhilesh Yadav, former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and others during a public meeting for the Lok Sabha elections, in Rae Bareli district, on May 17, 2024.

Congress leader and party candidate from Rae Bareli constituency Rahul Gandhi with party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and party candidate from Kannauj constituency Akhilesh Yadav, former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and others during a public meeting for the Lok Sabha elections, in Rae Bareli district, on May 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The dusty intersections of roads in Rae Bareli have been busy spots over the last ten days, as they are the venues for a slew of small election rallies, according to Saurabh Shah, a resident of Sarain Hardo village in the Uttar Pradesh constituency. “This poll campaign may stand out as it is localised outreach with smaller meetings mostly by Congress,” says Mr. Shah, a B.A. graduate, as he sips his tea at a roadside stall.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s political journey from Amethi to Rae Bareli in 20 years

Rae Bareli is the only parliamentary seat that the Congress won in the country’s largest State in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and is considered one of the party’s safest seats in the Hindi heartland. Rae Bareli’s voters have voted in a Congress candidate in 17 of the 20 parliamentary elections held here since Independence, including bypolls. This time, it is garnering extra buzz as Congress workers from across the country are here bolstering support for the party’s nominee, Rahul Gandhi, with his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra leading from the front.

Personal touch

“Rae Bareli has a tradition of politics for seva [service]. Indira Gandhi ji and Sonia Gandhi ji served you, worked for the area’s progress. We have many decades-old ties with the people of Rae Bareli,” Ms. Vadra says, addressing a Jan sampark meeting in the Sareni Assembly segment. The former U.P. Congress in-charge is doing at least 10 such Jan sampark or nukkad meetings daily, aiming to strengthen bonds with the voters through a personal touch. Ms. Vadra has stationed herself in Rae Bareli for more than a week, though she is also handling campaigning in neighboring Amethi, also a former family stronghold that was breached five years ago when Mr. Gandhi lost the seat to the BJP’s Smriti Irani.

“We are sure of registering a landslide victory, the margin in Rae Bareli will be among the highest not only in U.P. but across India,” says Anil Yadav, U.P. Congress general secretary, who is actively associated with the campaign in the Gandhi family bastion. Congress strategists believe that the caste and social arithmetic in the Lok Sabha constituency will benefit the party, with two additional factors — the coordination with the local cadre of the Samajwadi Party, and the traditional Brahmin-Rajput social fault lines — also working in the Congress’ favour.

Social fault lines

Union Home Minister Amit Shah campaigned in Rae Bareli for the BJP candidate Dinesh Pratap Singh and headed to local Samajwadi Party MLA Manoj Pandey’s residence after the rally, stayed there for roughly half-an-hour. In February, Mr. Pandey resigned from the post of the SP chief whip in the U.P. Assembly and cross-voted in favor of the BJP candidate in the recent Rajya Sabha election. He is considered an influential Brahmin leader in Rae Batreli, where Brahmins constitute about 11% of the electorate and have traditionally supported the Congress. “The social fault lines may not be visible, but it might come into play,” said Vikas Pandey, a local resident. Scheduled Caste (SC) communities account for about 30% of the electorate, while the Yadavs account for 9% of voters. About 12% are Muslims, while 11% are Rajputs.

Of the five Assembly seats in the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency — Bachhrawan, Harchandpur, Sareni, Unchahar, and Rae Bareli — the SP won the first four in the 2022 Assembly election. Though Mr. Pandey has now switched loyalties, the remaining three SP MLAs have been campaigning for the Congress candidate. “We are getting the full cooperation of the SP leaders, as it is a united fight to save India,” Mr. Yadav said.

In most of her speeches, Ms. Vadra targets the BJP’s candidate, Mr. Singh, for spreading terror in the district. “Today, the BJP has fielded such a candidate who scares the people, spreads terror. You have to decide what kind of MP you want,” she says at a nukkad meeting in Unchahar. The Congress leader also highlights national issues, from unemployment to farmer distress to the BJP’s close ties with top industrialists and the misgovernance of the Modi regime.

‘Will not leave till death’

Mr. Singh, who had an earlier stint in the Congress, contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election against former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and lost by about 1,67,000 votes. Ms. Gandhi, who represented the seat for about two decades, polled 5,34,918 votes (55.80%) against the BJP nominee who polled 3,67,740 (38.36%) votes.

The BJP campaign is focused on the Congress candidate, Mr. Gandhi, who has also contested the Lok Sabha election from Wayanad in Kerala. Mr. Singh vows not to leave Rae Bareli till his death. “Come what may I will not leave Rae Bareli, unlike the opponent who ran away to Wayanad after defeat,” he said.

At the end of the day, the local social arithmetic, the alliances, and the organisational build-up of both parties will all play a key role in determining whether the Congress can continue to hold Rae Bareli or whether its last bastion in U.P. can be breached by the BJP.

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