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India's Gandhi bastion votes amid Modi wave

Ruling Congress party manages to hold on to voters as polls close amid low turnout in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli.

Last updated: 30 Apr 2014 15:05
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Many swore loyalty to Gandhi family, who they said had served the nation for 60 years [Betwa Sharma/Al Jazeera]

Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh - Arjun Gautum, a mechanic, anticipated that it was going to be a scorching day and so he cast his vote early in Rae Bareli - a constituency in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, which went to the polls as temperature hit 42 degrees Celsius.

Rae Bareli is a Gandhi family bastion, and Gautam, 22, dutifully voted for Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling Congress Party. The constituency witnessed a low turnout of 48 percent when the voting closed.

"I want her to win in Rae Bareli but Modi should be the prime minister," he told Al Jazeera. "The country needs a man of action right now."

 

Gautam was referring to Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the key opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the chief minister of the western Gujarat state.

Opinion polls, so far, show BJP in the lead to win the national election.

"This time there is no point in voting for BJP here because it simply can't dislodge Gandhi," he said. "But if Modi does well as prime minister then I will see next time."

Rae Bareli, where Gandhi family members have been winning elections since the 1950s, is not immune to the "Modi wave".

While Sonia Gandhi is expected to keep her stronghold, her margin of victory is likely to reduce, but analysts find it impossible to predict by how much.

Other candidates in Rae Bareili, which has 1.38 million registered voters, are from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and the All Indian Trinamool Congress.

Mixed reaction

Mahesh Chaturvedi, a trader in fiber cables, voted for the BJP candidate from Rae Bareli, Ajay Agrawal, but he announced, "I have voted for Modi."

"I do not know anything about the local man," said, Chaturvedi, 48. "But my vote will help put Modi in power."

A couple of people I know went to find labour work in Gujarat. There was no work and they slept on the footpath before coming back.

Puneet Chakravarty, Light Technician

Chaturvedi said that he was angry about the holes in the road near his shop, which filled up with water every monsoon.

In a campaign advertisement that appeared in a Hindi-language newspaper on Tuesday, Modi promises to bring a "storm of development" in Rae Bareli, which was described as mess after 60 years.

But several voters on Wednesday swore their loyalty to the Gandhi family, who they said had served the nation for 60 years.

On Monday, Priyanka Vadra, daughter of Sonia Gandhi, the most popular member of the family, reportedly brought the Rae Bareli campaign to an end with a four kilometer walk across the city.

Agrawal, a lawyer, who is known for his public litigation in the Supreme Court, said that he had volunteered to run against Gandhi, and he was confident of a victory.

"For generations, people have voted like slaves for their ruler, but that will change now," he said.

While Agrawal, 49, has chosen a a tough opponent, his campaign operation in this constituency since October has consisted of a rented house, sparsely furnished with mattresses and laptop, his family and his childhood friend Ashutosh Kumar, as the manager.

Kumar, 50, said that Agrawal was running for the first time in an election since his college.

"I was his campaign manager then as well," he said, laughing.

Lack of development

While Agrawal accused Sonia Gandhi of several failures ranging from health to education, voters echoed his complaint about the lack of employment.

Both Gautam and Chaturvedi said that the few factories in the area were not enough to meet the employment needs of residents.

Gautam, for instance, said that he had to work as mechanic and a hotel attendant, but he barely made ends meet.

Puneet Chakravarty, 27, a light technician, who was on his way to vote for Gandhi, expressed scepticism about Gujarat being the development hub that Modi claimed.

"A couple of people I know went to find labour work in Gujarat," he said. "There was no work and they slept on the footpath before coming back."

Chakravarty, however, said that some of the guys at his workplace had been talking about voting for Modi as well.

"I was too busy to ask why, but they were talking so loudly that I could hear," he said. "I don't know what this new craze is."

Follow Betwa Sharma on Twitter

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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