TAMIL NADU

Amethi nurses a soft corner for India's `first family'

Anita Joshua

Amethi

Amethi wears its loyalty on its sleeve. The constituency is indebted to the Nehru-Gandhi family, and has no qualms admitting it. After all, it is this association with India's "first family" that has given Amethi its identity and "put it on the world map". Indeed, but for the detailed maps of the State, Amethi will not be found on any map of the country. And, why should it? It is not even a district.

Part of the Musafirkhana Lok Sabha seat for the first couple of general elections, the Amethi Lok Sabha seat was carved out of adjoining Rae Bareli and Sultanpur, and was just another constituency till Sanjay Gandhi chose to contest from here in 1977 in the belief that it would be a safe haven owing to its proximity to his mother, Indira Gandhi's turf, Rae Bareli.

Both lost the elections, and now the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wants the citizens of Amethi and Rae Bareli to repeat the 1977 feat by defeating another mother-son pair from the Nehru-Gandhi family. But, the locals in both constituencies, particularly Amethi, are equally determined to repeat 1980 when the duo not only won by huge margins and also walked away with well over 50 per cent of the votes polled.

With the Samajwadi Party (SP) opting to stay away from the contest — apparently as a goodwill gesture towards the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, in anticipation of her seeking re-election from here — the fight is primarily between the Congress and the BSP. In fact, the BSP is the only party that has actually worked on this constituency.

Though there are a dozen candidates in the contest, none of the other parties have made any effort to build a base here. With the Nehru-Gandhi family since 1980, except the 12th Lok Sabha when the Raja of Amethi and then Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, Sanjay Singh, wrested it from the hands of family loyalist, Satish Sharma, the other parties appear to have conceded Amethi to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

But given Amethi's sizable Dalit population — in the vicinity of 30 per cent — the BSP has been trying to woo them. As part of this exercise, the Mayawati Government in its last stint made Amethi a district and named it Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar after a Dalit leader. However, in line with the State's see-saw politics between the SP and the BSP, the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government overturned her decisions; Amethi is back to being a part of Sultanpur district and retains its original name though signposts of Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar can still be found in the area.

Considering the overwhelming goodwill that the Nehru-Gandhi family enjoys here, the Congress candidate, Rahul Gandhi, is expected to sail through to the Lok Sabha. As far as Amethi is concerned, he represents the return of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, during whose tenure this area had a VVIP existence.

Much of what he did for the constituency has come to naught — most of the factories in the Jagdishpur industrial belt he created have closed shop — in the absence of State patronage, but the people do not bear any ill-will towards the family because it has nursed Amethi with the limited resources under its command.

)Recalls Chhedilal Gupta, a restaurant owner in Jagdishpur: "Even when Soniaji was not a member of Parliament, she used to send us medicines and the doors of her house were always open to us."

Conscious that it may be a while before the Congress returns to a position of authority either at the Centre or in the State to pour largesse into Amethi, Ms. Gandhi's daughter, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, who looks after the constituency, has been organising the people into self-help groups to enable them to generate income in the absence of employment opportunities.

That locals across caste and community lines will vote for a Nehru-Gandhi is almost a foregone conclusion.

More so with Rahul Gandhi as their candidate; in him they see the possibility of Amethi regaining its coveted status of being a Prime Minister's constituency; if not now, certainly in the foreseeable future.

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