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Why India's Amethi still swears by Gandhis

Despite any visible signs of development, this VIP constituency is still loyal to first family of Indian politics.

Last updated: 07 May 2014 12:41
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Shiv Kumari Kori continues to support the Congress party [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]

Amethi, Uttar Pradesh - Just a few months before the 2009 parliamentary elections, Shiv Kumari Kori hosted two unlikely guests: David Miliband, the then British Foreign Secretary and Rahul Gandhi, the ruling Congress party leader and local legislator.

When Miliband visited Amethi along with Gandhi to spend a night at Kori's ramshackle hut, the Dalit woman thought the powerful leaders would end her wretched poverty.

"I had nothing to share with them, but poverty," Kori, a Congress supporter told Al Jazeera, describing how the duo spent a night at her home located in Simara village in politically crucial northern Uttar Pradesh state.

"The guests left next day. But the poverty continues to stay," Kori, a widow and a mother of three, said before igniting the kerosene lamp made of a cough syrup bottle.

 

Amethi has traditionally voted for the country's most famous political family, the Gandhis, for decades. Rahul Gandhi - the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty - is seeking to be re-elected for the third time when the constituency goes to polls on May 7.

Gandhi's father Rajiv, a former prime minister and mother Sonia, the current party chief, have also held the seat in the past.

VIP constituency

Despite being a VIP constituency for so long, Amethi cuts a sorry figure when it comes to development and welfare of the people. The near absence of basic amenities in the country's most publicised constituency is baffling.

The rural areas here seem to be caught in a time warp, as villagers grope in the dark due to unavailability of electricity, children still study under kerosene wick lamps, the strong clutches of caste system shows barely any signs of weakening, while poverty alleviation still remains a slogan.

Amethi is a good TV frame. You see Gandhis coming here on television and you feel the constituency must be doing well. It's a fake reality.

Alok Shrivastava, Local journalist

Surprisingly the main roads are in better condition, but as one ventures further into the interior areas, the ride becomes bumpy. In some places the villagers have laid roads of bricks and loose pebbles themselves since the government has not repaired them for ages.

Concrete houses are a rarity, and cow dung cakes - dried up in the open sun - serve as fuel to cook food. Many households are too poor to afford electricity.

"There are villages where people have not even seen a 500 rupee (app $8) note in their entire lives let alone using the currency. They barter food grains for cooking oil and salt," Alok Shrivastava, a senior TV journalist in the area, told Al Jazeera.

"Amethi is a good TV frame. You see Gandhis coming here on television and you feel the constituency must be doing well. It's a fake reality," he said.

Villagers cite several development-related issues ignored by the successive Uttar Pradesh state governments and the Congress party leaders, but when it comes to vote, most still prefer Gandhis over others.

In Amethi, the Gandhis have for long been dependent on votes from the large number of poor, including Dalits and Muslims, and locals say that they will yet again rally behind the Congress party.

"Whatever we have today in Amethi is because of Congress," Lalit Prasad, an auto driver of Tarapur village, told Al Jazeera, adding that all of his 23 family members will vote for Rahul Gandhi.

Anti-incumbency

The anti-incumbency does not seem to be a factor here as the mood among some of the 1.4 million voters is largely pro-Congress.

For example, Radheshaam Mahode, 36, a grocery vendor of Bahadarlal Sai village, says his village has no pure drinking water, electricity and roads but "Congress party deserves my vote".

Another vegetable vendor from the same village, Urmiala Baranwal, 36, says that her village will vote for the Congress (party) despite severe hardships "we have been facing for decades".

"I will follow my villagers," she said, adding "But do not think it is a vote for Rahul Gandhi. It is the vote for the Gandhi family."

Urmila Baranwal says she will vote for the Gandhi family [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]

Supporters of the Congress party, some of who have seen Rahul Gandhi only on posters stuck on electricity pylons, boast of the introduction of rail network in the area, an extension campus of Indian Institute of Information Technology and Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited - a power plant equipment manufacturer, but industrialsation as a whole has remained just a concept.

Most of the factories in the Jagdishpur, an industrial belt that Rahul's father Rajiv started, have shut operations.

But cracks in the voting trend have begun to appear after the arrival of Kumar Vishwas of the anti-corruption party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Vishwas, who is contesting from Amethi, has vowed to end the Gandhi's dynastic rule - something many tried in the past but failed.

Dynastic politics

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a marginal player here, has fielded popular TV actress, Smriti Irani, to cash in on the discontent seen against Congress party for a raft of scams and price rise that dented its 10-year-old rule.

"We are boycotting polls, but if we ever vote, we will vote for the AAP," dozens of angry villagers told Al Jazeera in Piparpur village.

People do not read newspapers. Congress is in their psyche. They have no idea that 200 villages in Amethi continue to drink water from watercourses after boiling it.

Pradeep Sundriyalal, AAP's Campaign Strategist

"Rahul Gandhi comes with his security and meets his supporters. The common man does not even get to see him. AAP's candidate is down to earth. We have heard he is going door-to-door to meet villagers," they said.

Even as it is difficult to dislodge the dynastic politics of Gandhis in one blow, the residents here, particularly the educated ones, have started deliberating on their voting choices.

But most of the Amethi locals wear their Gandhi loyalty on their sleeves - something AAP's strategists know very well.

"Our weakness is that people do not know much about us," AAP's campaign manager Pradeep Sundriyalal, who recently quit his job in the US to campaign for the AAP, told Al Jazeera.

"People do not read newspapers. Congress is in their psyche. They have no idea that 200 villages in Amethi continue to drink water from watercourses after boiling it," he said.

"Isn't it shocking that the people of future Prime Minister's constituency - if Congress wins obviously - are waterless since 65 years. So we are going door-to-door to inform villagers."

Both the BJP and the AAP parties may want people of Amethi to turn their backs on Gandhis, but for most people such as Shiv Kumari Kori, their loyalty still lie with the first family of Indian politics.

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Al Jazeera
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