Yesterday, the BJP released its first list of candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The list contained names of 184 candidates. One of the interesting announcements was Union Minister Smriti Irani’s re-nomination from the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency. The constituency is seen as a Gandhi bastion and is expected to witness a high voltage contest amid BJP’s rising popularity in the Parliamentary constituency.
Earlier, there was speculation in the media about the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi contesting from some other seat. Former CM of Karnataka and senior Congress leader, Siddaramaiah had said that Karnataka Congress wanted party president Rahul Gandhi to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from the southern state, a proposal which Rahul Gandhi had reportedly refused in the past. This came just after the party had announced that party chief Rahul Gandhi would be contesting from Amethi and Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli.
Siddaramaiah’s comments and suggestion had not come as much of a surprise. The fact remains that Rahul Gandhi’s popularity has declined in the Amethi Lok Sabha, which was once considered a Nehru-Gandhi family pocket borough. In the 2009 general elections, Rahul Gandhi got 71.78% of votes however in the very next 2014 general elections, Rahul Gandhi’s vote share saw a sharp decline of more than 25% to just 46.71%. BJP candidate, Smriti Irani was able to capitalise on the Congress president’s falling popularity even as the party registered a massive increase in its vote share from just 5.81% votes in 2009 Lok Sabha elections to 38.31% votes in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, even though Irani lost the polls, she was able to put up a spirited fight and came close to dethroning the Gandhi scion from the family stronghold.
In the last five years, the BJP and union minister Smriti Irani have only grown in popularity in the Amethi constituency. Amethi has not seen much development over the decades and the BJP has capitalised on this underperformance. In the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the BJP was able to win from 4 out of the 5 assembly seats which fall within the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency. This shows that the Congress is in deep trouble in the run up to the 2019 Parliamentary polls and faces an uphill task of somehow retaining Amethi, which was once considered a Gandhi bastion.
It seems that the Congress was done in by the BJP in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls. Even though Irani has emerged as a strong candidate from Amethi given that she has been interacting with Amethi residents on a regular basis and even took part in blanket distribution, along with attending the inauguration function of a hospital in the district. She also arranged a ‘mobile digital theatre’ which screened the movie ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ for the public of the Gandhi borough free of cost and the Congress is facing falling popularity, the Congress decided to field its party president from Amethi. The BJP played a smart move by delaying the announcement of its candidates. The Congress couldn’t see through this move and decided to field Rahul Gandhi from Amethi. The grand old party was clearly trapped by the BJP. Now, the Congress does not even have the option of shifting Rahul Gandhi as it would imply that the Congress president gave up the fight with Irani. In the Irani v Rahul Gandhi contest, Irani clearly has an edge over her opponent and unfortunately for the Congress, it is now too late to avoid this contest.