When Kumar Vishwas of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) cavalcaded into Amethi, raising dust and challenging Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, the local MP, it brought back memories of 1977. In that watershed year of Indian politics, Ravindra Pratap Singh, a student leader, had thrown the gauntlet at Sanjay Gandhi, Rahul’s uncle, then in a position analogous to Rahul’s. He represented Amethi then, and was the son of Indira Gandhi. Perhaps the only difference was that he had arrogated to himself—and managed to exert—far more power than Rahul can possibly imagine over party and, extra-constitutionally, over affairs of state. “You vote for me,” he’d say, “and I will convert Amethi into London.” And yet Singh, a total rookie, humiliated Sanjay in the elections, in the same way that Raj Narain defeated the all-powerful Indira that year in Rae Bareli.
But it would be wrong to read the two situations as equivalent and it’s too early to predict a similar show for Kumar Vishwas. For one, the 1977 election saw widespread expression of an anti-Indira mood, thanks to the Emergency she had shackled the country with. And the opposition had then been united in a way it never has been since. What’s more, only three years later, Sanjay won again. For three decades since then—except in 1998-99, when Sanjay Singh, the local ‘raja’, represented the seat as a BJP MP—Amethi has remained with the Congress.
Rahul’s last election, in 2009, saw him win from Amethi with a record margin of some four lakh votes. In the ten years he has represented Amethi, he hasn’t faced any real challenge. And despite the general disillusionment with the Congress, the situation in Amethi does not entirely forebode a Rahul debacle. Even so, there are worrying signals. It should have been extremely difficult for Kumar Vishwas to raise the kind of dust storm he raised on January 13. But he managed to.
Most Amethi-walas, however, want to allow more time before deciding what to make of the very voluble Kumar Vishwas. Ram Dulare, a local farmer, is not too sure about switching loyalties. “The AAP is new to the people of Amethi. We did not know about the party until the arrival of Kumar Vishwas. I’m told they are doing a good job in Delhi, but it’s early yet to decide we will give them a chance straightaway. Let’s wait and watch, let’s see if they fulfil the promises they made to the people of Delhi,” he says. Akhilesh Singh, a 20-year-old undergraduate student, concedes that Rahul hasn’t done much for Amethi, but says, “Despite all that, there’s no reason why Rahul should lose. He has deep roots here and his family is loved by the people.”
Photograph by Ashok Dutta/HT
While Rahul never promised the people of Amethi a London, he has slipped somewhat in meeting their expectations. The resulting disgruntlement, it must be conceded, has created conditions where an upset is not inconceivable. “Rahul promised jobs for the local youth, but not a single industry has come up in these years,” complains Devendra Pratap, an unemployed graduate desperate to contribute to his family kitty. Even Raj Karan Singh, a former Congress MP, had drawn the party’s attention to the deplorable conditions in Amethi. “All these years,” he says, “Rahul has given nothing to Amethi. It still looks like a village.” No wonder, he says, in the 2012 assembly elections in UP, the Congress lost in all five assembly segments making up the Amethi parliamentary constituency.
At an impromptu gathering around Kumar Vishwas, complaints against Rahul were openly expressed. “We want to know what he has done for us in the years his family and party have been in power at the Centre,” asks Bansidhar Shukla, who had travelled from Jamo village to listen to Kumar Vishwas. “When our own MP, with full control at the Centre, has failed to give us our due...well, what should we expect....” And Rabbani Mian, who runs a Muslim trust in Unnao, says, “The AAP has ushered in a revolution in this country. I’m sure Muslims would be inclined to support this party in Amethi too. We all have had enough of insensitive leaders who don’t bother about the common man.”
But also on display in Amethi is a healthy scepticism of AAP, the sort Delhi’s middle-class and urban-village migrant populations, the party’s only proven constituency till now, do not seem to have displayed so far. Sonam, a 35-year-old eunuch who had shared the dais with Kumar Vishwas, had questions the very next day. Many others have also been irked by Kumar Vishwas’s grating drama and indifferent verses. “I’d thought of throwing my lot behind the AAP, but in 24 hours I realised I would be wasting my time. After all, the AAP has yet to prove what it’s capable of doing,” says Sonam. “I also disapprove of Vishwas coming here in a long motorcade, especially when he is talking about the aam aadmi.”
Some, like Pavan Kumar Srivastava, a 41-year-old sim card seller, are calculating the ‘winnability’ angle. “All that Viswhas would probably succeed in is reducing Rahul’s winning margin. Nothing more,” he says. “Perhaps it’s true that Rahul has hardly given anything to Amethi, but he has not done anything against us either.” In segments like Jagdishpur, the AAP effect seems to be negligible. Not even 100 people showed up to listen to Kumar Vishwas at the A.H. Intermediate College grounds in that industrial town. The neighbouring market was bustling with activity, but people hardly turned to take a second look at Kumar Vishwas or pay attention to his inventive slogans and couplets.
For all that, the AAP wannabe is serious of purpose. He has found himself a place to live in Amethi, where he plans to spend the time until the general elections. “I am not among those who will fly in and out of this place like a tourist,” he says. “I am here to brush shoulders with the local people and will not budge from here.” Rahul seems to have taken note of the maverick’s tenacity and seems to have made it a point to assess his show: after Kumar Vishwas announced his foray into Amethi, Rahul had postponed a visit to the constituency, perhaps to see the response Kumar Vishwas drew.
For now, Rahul doesn’t seem to be rattled by the newcomer’s little gig. But party managers are taking note for sure. Even the BJP is trying to work out what to do to counter him. Only a couple of fortnights back, it was bruited that the BJP was wooing Sanjay Singh, the Congress MP from neighbouring Sultanpur and scion of the erstwhile royal family of Amethi. While the ‘raja sahib’, who commands considerable respect in Amethi, doesn’t seem to have changed his mind, Kumar Vishwas’s performance, it might be said, has made both rival parties take note of the AAP phenomenon outside of Delhi.
By Sharat Pradhan in Amethi
Apropos your article on Kumar Vishwas (Man in the Muddle, Jan 27), the people of Amethi should ask themselves: what did their Congress MP do in the last 10 years? Did he ever raise the issue of the plight of the people of his constituency in Parliament?
Dr G. Satyanarayana, New York
Much of Amethi’s development began in the time of Rajiv Gandhi. He encouraged the setting up of industries in Amethi, bringing jobs to many young people of the region. Rahul should continue his father’s good work.
Amritraj, on e-mail
“Perhaps it’s true that Rahul has hardly given anything to Amethi, but he has not done anything against us either,” an Amethi resident is quoted as saying in your article. What amazingly low expectations people have of their MP!
M.K. Saini, Delhi
Apropos The Man in the Muddle (Jan 27), Kumar Vishwas will do nothing more than generate some publicity for AAP. He won’t defeat Rahul Gandhi in Amethi.
He seems to be sincere
though one can accuse him as a slow learner.
He seems to be sincere
though one can accuse him as a slow learner.
So India has to adapt itself to a slow learner. Maybe that's the reality
Is these something racialist about so deference paid to the Gandhi family?
Amethi Develpoments begins with the Rajiv Gandhi era, he did a lot in Amethi. Many people get jobs some industries were set up. Rahul Gandhi for sure will continue the pending work of his father. God Bless!
It is incorrect to compare the present scenario to
that of after emergency elections. Rahul's best is
he is not arrogant like his uncle nor has any intention to
weild extra constitutional power. He seems to be sincere
though one can accuse him as a slow learner.
Too many words woven into a plausible story that helps once again to bring the old muddle of a town called Amethi and the routines of a tiring polling exercise in the limelight. Unfazed by the doldrum of sudden visitation by politicians and others who make promises in their speeches, the local people guided by their political handlers will unmindfully put a stamp of renewal on the license to loot the country. More stories are written for other villages and towns across the country especially desgined to control the political outcome of one's choice. For as long as I remember, Indian media has been generously rewarded for its role as the king maker. It is time people demanded pictorial journalism so they could see the progress in Amethi and elsewhere through pictures. Some of the Amethi pictures I saw on Internet today present a pathetic mockery of democracy.
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