The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Amethi seat jitters for Cong

New Delhi, Feb. 13: The initial bypoll feedback the Congress leadership is receiving from the Gauriganj Assembly seat in Sonia Gandhi's Amethi Lok Sabha constituency is not encouraging.

The death of sitting Congress legislator Noor Mohammad has necessitated the bypoll, which will be held on February 26. Winning it is important for both the Congress and party president Sonia.

Other than being an Assembly segment in the prestigious Amethi constituency, the bypoll comes at a time when the Congress Legislature Party has suffered a split. It is hoped that a victory in Gauriganj will act as a morale booster for the party in Uttar Pradesh.

But according to the state unit’s assessment pouring into the AICC headquarters, however, party nominee Fateh Mohammad is unlikely to retain father Noor Mohammad’s seat. “We do not expect to retain the seat,” said a top party leader, citing initial party reports from the Assembly constituency.

Fateh Mohammad is locked in a multi-cornered contest. The Samajwadi Party, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party have fielded their nominees. The talk is that the Samajwadi is indirectly helping the Congress by nominating a “weak candidate”.

In last year’s Assembly election, Noor Mohammad had won Gauriganj by a narrow margin of 250-odd votes over his nearest Samajwadi rival.

While a campaign by Sonia in Gauriganj has never been under consideration, the negative assessments will mean that daughter Priyanka Gandhi too may stay away.

Fateh Mohammad was here a few days ago to urge Sonia to send Priyanka for the campaign, but apparently without success.

According to party insiders, the Congress’ main problem in Gauriganj is the alienation of Thakurs and Brahmins, who have been supporting the party. Priyanka’s recent move to take up the cause of a Dalit in Gauriganj by helping him construct a house on some land apparently belonging to a Thakur is considered the reason for the alienation.

While Priyanka withdrew from Gauriganj when the issue became too controversial, the subsequent visit by Sonia last month to control the damage failed to yield the desired result, the party insiders said.

A defeat in Gauriganj will leave the Congress with only one of the five Assembly segments in Sonia’s Amethi — Jagdishpur. The Tiloi and Amethi seats are held by the BJP and the Salon seat is with the Samajwadi.

The Congress leadership knows the party does not stand a chance in the other bypoll at Haidergarh, which fell vacant after BJP’s Rajnath Singh entered the Rajya Sabha. The party though has fielded AICC secretary Imran Kidwai from the seat.

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