Amethi, a dusty town in Uttar Pradesh, was known to be the fortress of the Congress party, yet in this general elections its voters surprised India by electing Union Minister Smriti Irani of BJP.
This victory is huge for the BJP because the Congress had managed to hold the constituency for nearly four decades. Moreover, this is Smriti Irani’s first win in Lok Sabha polls after failing in two successive elections - in 2004 against Kapil Sibal from the Chandni Chowk in Delhi and in 2014 against Rahul Gandhi from Amethi itself.
Smriti's 55,000-vote victory margin surprised even the BJP workers as the poll results came out on May 23.
Rahul Gandhi had won from this seat for three consecutive terms effortlessly until Smriti, an yesteryear TV actress famed for her role as Tulsi in a sitcom, cast a spell this year. The seat had also been held by Rahul's parents, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi and his uncle Sanjay Gandhi.
The constituency, which was formed in 1967, always had its sentiments attached to the Gandhi family. The old voters here fondly remember Rajiv Gandhi as a passionate leader who made efforts to meet the locals and develop the area. And hence the voters continued to vote for the Congress in the general elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014. The voters did warn Rahul Gandhi in 2014 when his victory margin was reduced from 3 lakh to 1 lakh. Yet the Congress failed to perform this time in their family bastion. Its last-minute campaigning did not create a lasting impression and Amethi decided to give the saffron party a chance.
The people in Amethi feel that Rahul Gandhi did not pay enough attention to them, especially the poor. According to media reports, the villagers are miffed with Rahul for not visiting them and pursuing developmental issues until a result was achieved.
And worse, Rahul filed nomination papers from Wayanad in Kerala also, hurting the Amethi people the most.
Though Smriti Irani lost in 2014 she tried to win the trust of the people in the course of the past five years. She made numerous visits to Amethi and addressed the infrastructural needs of the people. Her party also helped her significantly connect with the public and win their hearts. She helped the local farmers by building a barrage in Pipri village where the Gomti river often ruined their crops. Her vigorous campaigning was impossible to go unnoticed. Her one-on-one interaction with the population ultimately proved to be fruitful.
The generation gap also played a key role at the elections this time in Amethi. It was the older generation who knew the importance of Gandhi family in Amethi and had a sense of commitment towards them. They knew that it was during the Gandhi period where the infertile, alkaline soil was turned into something productive that made their livelihood. But the younger lads chose future over emotions. Smriti helped them with scholarships and jobs, and several other schemes and so the youth bonded with her.
The BJP had been plotting their victory in Amethi for quite some time. Several local leaders from other parties, including the Congress, had joined hands with them, also taking their share of votes to the BJP. The groundwork that the BJP did effectively across the country was followed in Amethi too.
Amethi was a matter of pride for the Congress, but the Modi wave and Tulsi’s charm seemed to work at Amethi this year, adding one more constituency to the BJP’s pocket.