Amethi has remained the citadel of the Congress but this time round BJP’s Smriti Irani wrested the seat from Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, winning by 35,000 votes. While Irani garnered 49.02 per cent of the vote share in Amethi, Gandhi was close behind with 44.44. Addressing a press conference, Rahul Gandhi conceded defeat in Amethi and congratulated Irani, saying he respected the mandate of the people of the constituency.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi is heading for a record-breaking margin against his nearest rival CPI’s P P Suneer in the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency.
In a bid to rope in support from the south, Congress president Rahul Gandhi contested the Lok Sabha elections from Wayanad in Kerala, apart from his home turf Amethi. A three-time MP from Amethi, the announcement had sparked speculations of the party s uncertainty that he would win again. However, it was clarified that the decision was taken to send a message of unity and peace and project Rahul as a pan-India leader.
Ahead of the elections, Rahul campaigned in Wayanad twice and in Amethi thrice, including the days on which he filed his nomination papers. Wayanad went to polls in the third phase on April 23, while Amethi voted in the fifth phase on May 6. The voter turnout in Amethi was 53 per cent, while Wayanad recorded 80.31 per cent.
This is the first general election being fought by the Congress with Rahul at the helm. For the 48-year-old, this will not only be a test of his leadership but will also define the future for the party after its drubbing in the 2014 elections where it was reduced to just 44 seats.
It will be interesting to see which seat Rahul will forego if he wins from both.
The significance of Amethi for Rahul Gandhi
Amethi is a Congress bastion, but Rahul, a three-time MP from the constituency, has held the seat the longest. Before him, it was represented by his mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, his father Rajiv Gandhi and his uncle Sanjay Gandhi. Before she entered active politics, Rahul s sister Priyanka, now Congress general secretary, often canvassed the constituency as well.
Rahul first won Amethi in 2004 with a margin of 100,000 votes. In 2009, he retained the seat defeating his nearest rival by 370,000 votes. In the last general election in 2014, Rahul defeated BJP s Smriti Irani by a margin of one lakh votes.
There is symbolism in Amethi. It is located in central Uttar Pradesh, a state that sends the largest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha (80). The state accounts for 16 per cent of India s population and holds key to the formation of the government at the Centre.
It is also important for the Congress as it is one of the only two seats the party managed to win in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 the other was Rae Bareli, held by Sonia Gandhi.
The BSP-SP-RLD alliance, despite fighting the polls in UP without the Congress, did not put up a candidate in Amethi as a show of support to Rahul.
Rahul Gandhi and the politics of Wayanad
The Wayanad seat can be considered a safe hold for the Congress, which has won both elections to the constituency since its inception in 2009.
The Wayanad region comprises seven Assembly segments Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad revenue district; Thiruvambady in Kozhikode revenue district; and Nilambur, Eranad and Vandoor in Malappuram revenue district.
Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Thiruvambady are currently with the CPI(M), while Nilambur is represented by a CPI(M)-backed Independent. Sulthan Bathery, Vandoor and Eranad are currently held by the Congress-led UDF, including one with the Indian Union Muslim League.
When Rahul filed his nomination papers from Wayanad, he had said: I know the Congress and the CPM are locked in a fight in Kerala. This fight will go on. I understand that my brothers and sisters in CPM will fight me, attack me, but I will never say a word against them in my campaign. My motto is to send a message of unity and peace in South India.
Rahul is the first person from the Nehru-Gandhi clan to stand from Kerala. However, the trend of contesting a seat from the south began with Indira, and was followed by Sonia. Indira had contested from Karnataka s Chikmaglur in the 1978 bypoll and from Medak in then Andhra Pradesh in 1980, while Sonia stood from Bellary in 1999.
In this election, Rahul is pitted against PP Suneer of the CPI and Thushar Vellappally of the NDA.