What Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath and Smriti Irani have in common, is that they’ve risen the ranks and proven their mettle in a domain dominated by an entitled elite that looks down with hostility upon outsiders. The rally in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency, sounded like the bugle for BJP’s 2019 general election campaign. It came across as a call to the entire country to dump a self-serving elite that had mastered the art of exploitation. That such a call was made in Amethi, a constituency that has sent four Gandhis to parliament, was quite poetic.
The Congress Party is, for the first time, on the backfoot in Amethi. Amethi is considered the safest seat for the party, and this indicates the party’s ever-weakening position. Before the 2014 general elections, no candidate fighting against a member of the Gandhi family had polled more than one lakh votes in the constituency. In 2014 though, BJP’s candidate Smriti Irani polled over three lakh votes. Moreover, the incumbent member of parliament Rahul Gandhi’s victory margin reduced from over three lakh votes to just over one lakh votes.
Smriti Irani vowed to return to Amethi, and conduct developmental works for the people of the constituency despite losing the elections. After the elections, she has spent more time in the constituency than Rahul Gandhi, ensuring government schemes reach the people and earning their goodwill. Her efforts bore fruit in the state assembly elections that took place earlier this year. The Congress failed to win even a single assembly segment out of the five that fall within the constituency’s ambit. The BJP won four.
Dislodging Rahul Gandhi from Amethi will be a huge embarrassment for the Congress Party, and that is exactly what Amit Shah is working towards. In the past, the topmost leaders of every party were given a walkover by their opponents. But with Shah at the helm of BJP’s affairs, all such bets are off. Shah plays to win, to win everything. No underhand understanding or electoral courtesy is extended to anyone, irrespective of whether they reside on Akbar Road or Janpath.
On the eve of the rally, one of Rahul Gandhi’s closest aides in Amethi, a gentleman by the name of Jang Bahadur Singh, joined the BJP. Singh is a former MLA, and he switched sides with around seventy other cadres. These included more than twenty village Sarpanchs. According to various estimates, Singh controls over thirty thousand votes in Amethi, and his move is likely to have fatal ramifications for the Congress Party. Singh claims, as do other citizens in Amethi, that the local member of parliament has no time for his constituency and his constituents. One must give the BJP full credit for swooping down on disgruntled elements in key constituencies whenever the opportunity arises. Such defections would have been impossible in a pre-Shah era.
The trio that took the stage in Amethi on Tuesday are master communicators.
Each of them has been a victim of the ecosystem that formed around the Congress Party when it was in power. Shah has been on the ecosystem’s hitlist since his Gujarat days, and the hitjob on his son last week proves that from their perspective, things haven’t changed. The ecosystem detests him for crafting an election victory that installed a former tea-seller in the highest office of the country. Smriti Irani is detested by the ecosystem for daring to take on Rahul Gandhi seriously in Amethi in 2014, and has been the subject of its ire ever since. Yogi Adityanath has been the ecosystem’s bête noire, essentially for being a saffron-clad Yogi. When the trio attacked the ecosystem’s political masters on Tuesday, they didn’t hold back.
Smriti Irani, who spoke first, highlighted the lack of development in Amethi.
She spoke of her effort, and those of the center’s and the state’s, to come together and uplift Amethi. For years, as the prince holidayed in exotic locations, a river that runs through the area was eating up entire villages. She spoke of how the previous state government had been unresponsive, and that the new one under Yogi had already started to work on this issue. Yogi Adityanath laid stress on the developmental works his government had undertaken in the region, but it was his direct attack on the prince that made people sit up. Apparently, a non-profit foundation that the prince runs has grabbed several acres of land in the constituency for commercial purposes. The chief minister stated that land-grabbing was a trait that ran in the family, and assured the citizens that under his watch, neither the son nor the son-in-law would get away with these illegal practices. He spoke like a true yogi, without fear or favor.
But it was BJP president Amit Shah’s speech that gave us an insight into the lines his party’s campaign might take in the next general elections. He introduced some new lingo that is likely to be at the center of Indian political discourse in the coming months: the Gandhi model versus the Modi model. Nowhere was the difference as stark as it was in Amethi, he said. He pointed out how much the Modi government had done for the constituency in three years, more than three entire generations of the Gandhi family could do. Indeed, the developmental track record of the constituency under the Gandhi family has been dismal. The constituency has consistently fared among the worst in most parameters and indicators within the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is considered among the most backward in the country. And to think that it has been the bastion of the country’s first family, and that they could have turned into a model constituency and instead ran it to the ground, speaks volumes of the first family.
The Gandhi model versus the Modi is something we will hear more often in the future, especially as the next general elections approach. An image flashing on our television screens on the day Amethi was slipping from under Rahul Gandhi’s feet, illustrated the big political story that was playing out- as the trio decisively took Amethi away from the family, Rahul Gandhi was seen awkwardly dancing in Gujarat, prime minister Modi and Amit Shah’s state where the Congress Party is expected to lose badly.