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In Nehru-Gandhi bastion, Modi murmurs

Nov. 11: The Congress is still to recuperate from the drubbing it received in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections in its first family’s turf.

Voters in Rae Bareli, a seat Indira Gandhi once represented and Sonia Gandhi has held since 2004, believe that the Congress president is unlikely to win with as big a margin — nearly four lakh votes — as she did in 2009.

But while no one appeared to doubt that Sonia who “still commanded the highest respect in the Congress” would “make it”, voters in nearby Amethi were less sure about her son Rahul who is fighting his third election. In 2004 and 2009, Rahul had posted spectacular wins in Amethi, a constituency located 80km from Rae Bareli and which was in the past represented by his mother and father Rajiv Gandhi.

D.K. Singh, a social worker attached to the Rotary Club, offered the most charitable take on Rahul: “The people of Rae Bareli and Amethi do not see beyond hand pumps, roads and subsidies. Rahulji’s mandate is much larger. He has a worldview that transcends a conventional parliamentarian’s constituency-bound one. He is too broad-minded for Amethi.”

Others from the Congress, who asked not to be named, were not as charitable. “Frankly we don’t bother about Rahul. Unless a whip is issued (when he is in Amethi), we do not call on him. What’s the use? He doesn’t remember names and faces although many of us have spoken to him a thousand times,” alleged an Amethi Congressman.

When Dharam Garg, a Rae Bareli entrepreneur, reminisced about “better times”— the Indira and Rajiv Gandhi era — he conceded that was a period when their security apparatus was not so visible.

“My father remembers the times when Indiraji used to drop by at the house of a local Congress legislative council member across the road,” said Garg, seated in his showroom. “Indiraji used to walk the streets of the town, stopping by to wish people and chat with them. That was a source of feedback because in those days people said what they liked, without fear or fuss,” he added.

Garg, in his 50s, had pleasant memories of Rajiv. “I was then in the business of supplying imported telephone equipment for ITI (Indian Telephone Industries, based in Rae Bareli). There were procedural hassles so I approached Rajivji. He summoned Satish Sharma (a Gandhi family confidant of several years) and asked him to sort out the problems. Rajivji told him our objective should be to create 50 such young entrepreneurs instead of thwarting them if Amethi and Rae Bareli were to prosper,” he recollected.

Today, Garg — like many others in the Gandhi fief — said he yearned for a “Narendra Modi-like” leader.

“He connects with people, with businessmen, youngsters, housewives, the poor because he speaks the language of hope without using abstruse phrases like escape velocity (that Rahul did at a meeting of Dalits in New Delhi).

“There’s no electricity here, for which the Gandhis blame the Uttar Pradesh government. But if the Gandhis are the most powerful persons in India, can’t they ask the local government to rectify the situation?” he asked.

Security constraints apart, there was a feeling that the Gandhis were ringed by a small cabal allegedly determined to deny access to the “aam janta”.

Local Congress members said they brought up the issue of “inaccessibility” with the Gandhis, including Priyanka — who micro-manages Rae Bareli — several times.

In the 2012 elections, of the 12 Assembly seats in Rae Bareli-Amethi, the Congress won just two; the rest were picked up by the Samajwadi Party.

“After this rout, we implored Soniaji and Rahulji to get rid of this coterie who expect us to wait on them, hand and foot, 24 hours. No use. They are still in business. Worse, they have set up local factions to stem the threat of a revolt against them,” complained one.