A safe seat for Mr Gandhi
Congress deewane mulk mey, raat mey aur dopahar mey, aabodaana dhoondtay hain, ek aashiana dhoondtay hain. Apologies to the makers of the 1970s Hindi film Gharonda, in which Aam Aadmi Amol Palekar and Aam Aurat Zarina Wahab sang the song written by Gulzar which roughly translates to: two enthusiasts in the city, scout day and night, hunting for a nest, hunting for a home. The ordinary struggle of an ordinary urban Indian couple, of finding a roof above their heads. The Congress leaders today are like that desperate couple, hunting for safe constituencies for themselves and Rahul Gandhi. The search is getting urgent. It is bordering on the crazily obsessive.
Many Congress leaders are nervous about returning to their own constituencies, wondering if it would be more prudent to sit out this election to see which way the wind blows. The sudden rise of the AAP, the consolidation by the BJP, the pro-Modi factor has made Congress workers and leaders equally nervous. The hunt has begun in right earnest to find a safe seat for Rahul Gandhi. Not Amethi, not Rae Bareily, not Sultanpur. Sure, he will have to contest from one of these seats because, “Bhaiyya izzat ka savaal hai”, but then that izzat can roll in the heat and dust of Uttar Pradesh politics with cruel unpredictability. Ask Mayawati, she will tell you that, even as she sits comfortably ensconced in her several marble palaces in Delhi on a temporary sabbatical. Way back in 1977, a maverick called Raj Narain defeated Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareily. The first and the only time in Indian history that a sitting Prime Minister lost an election.
56-year-old paan vendor in Amethi Ghanshyam Khatri, who is making a fast buck selling paans by the minute on Sunday as crowds collect for the rally being held by Kumar Vishwas of the AAP, says Rahul Gandhi is important for Amethi: “Kafi dinon se yahin se ladte hain, jo unke bas mein hai vo kar rahe hain. Log bhi salon se unhi ko vote de rahe hain. Ab AAP waale aaye hain to socha jayega.” Think dear Congress, this ‘soch’ is very important because it is not an undecided voter who is doing this thinking and rethinking. The traditional voter in Amethi who automatically voted for the Congress is also thinking this time before casting his vote. 42-year-old Sirjauddin, a fruit seller in Amethi says, “agar koi naya aata hai to janta mauka de sakti hai. Rahul ji bade neta hain, unki sarkar hai, jitna unhe karna chahiye tha unhone utna nahi kiya. Public naraz bhi hai unse. Lekin chunav aisa hi hota hai.” While these may be voices of ordinary people who speak while the AAP makes an entry into the Congress bastion, Rahul will have to bear the burden of the perception that neither he nor UPA-2 could deliver on promises made in 2009.
If Amethi is not safe enough, where else should Rahul contest from then? Some say that just as his grandmother ushered in Congress's resurrection from Chikmagalur in Karnataka, Rahul could go back there and plan a similar rejuvenation of the Congress party. It was in 1978 after losing in Rae Bareilly, that his grandmother won this seat in a bye-election.
Those who want Rahul to contest from Karnataka are probably hoping that Kannadigas will vote for him like they did for his mother in Bellary against the formidable Sushma Swaraj in 2004. Tying her hair in a tight oily bun, wearing south Indian cotton saris, making speeches in Kannada, the north Indian bahu gave a serious fight to Sonia who despite reading from written speeches won the election. Sonia too did not return to Bellary for the 2009 elections nor did Sushma Swaraj. Meanwhile Yeddyurappa is back in the BJP fold, the AAP making inroads into Karnataka, there is really no telling which way the wind will blow in the next few months.
While rival party spokespersons are attacking the Aam Aadmi Party in television debates and on the social media, they are baring their insecurity in ample measure. The saner voices in the Congress are trying to hold back the noisy voices. The January 17 AICC session should be a forum for leaders to listen, rethink and recalibrate.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash