New Delhi: Although this is no longer a secret, the growing disconnect of the Congress leadership from the electorate is most evident in the Nehru-Gandhis’ pocket-boroughs of Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur represented by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Sanjay Singh, the minor royal of the area. In the February/ March 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party won by a landslide, the Congress lost all but two of the fifteen assembly segments of Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur. The two seats came in Amethi, one a retention, and the party drew blanks in Rae Bareli and Sultanpur.

The Sultanpur loss is understandable because Sanjay Singh has fallen out with the Nehru-Gandhis and did not campaign. He expected positions of importance in the Uttar Pradesh Congress which were denied. His wife, Amita, the former badminton champion, also lost the election. But the defeats in Rae Bareli and Amethi jolted the Nehru-Gandhis directly. Amethi was not half as bad as Rae Bareli which is Sonia’s constituency. The conversation inside the Congress is that Sonia Gandhi may well lose her seat in the next election. Which is why frenzied sops have been announced by the Union cabinet, including an all-women university in Rae Bareli and conversion of the Amethi flying academy into a university too, although what purpose that will serve remains unclear.

Will the sops work?


It is important to understand that the aspirations of voters have changed. The bulk of the voters are young. Between Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, they preferred Mulayam’s son, which is why the Samajwadi Party did so well in the polls, although it has been downhill since. When Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi represented Rae Bareli/ Amethi, Uttar Pradesh was also with the Congress. This is the story of the late 1960s stretching up to the close of the 1980s. Because Uttar Pradesh was with the Congress, it wasn’t such an effort to raise the standards in Rae Bareli/ Amethi, and the deterioration began after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. Reporters have been frequently told by people in Amethi and Rae Bareli that Rajiv was accessible and friendly whereas Sonia and Rahul stay aloof within the fortress guarded by the Special Protection Group.

Voters, especially young voters, would not tolerate this situation. Their elders may have worshipped the Nehru-Gandhis and expected little in return but aspirations have risen since and the dynasty’s hold has been weakening. Rahul Gandhi has often said he is prevented from developing Rae Bareli and Amethi because Uttar Pradesh is not with the Congress. Surely, voters in the two constituencies won’t wait for the Congress to get back Uttar Pradesh, which looks impossible in the foreseeable future anyway. So in the assembly election, they chose to go with the voting trend in the rest of the state, supporting Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party to the full. Voters may be even more persuaded now that getting rid of the Nehru-Gandhis would bring change to Rae Bareli and Amethi. What do you do with a non-performing stock? You dispose it before long. That is where the trajectory is headed for the Nehru-Gandhis.

This trend, to be sure, is not restricted to their pocket boroughs. But losing them -- or the prospect of that -- has a shock value far in excess of if the Congress forfeits the coming election, as it will. These two constituencies alongwith Sultanpur have advertised and demonstrated the Nehru-Gandhis’ iron grip over Indian politics. Situated in Uttar Pradesh, the political nerve centre of the country, they carry a special connotation. He or she who rules Uttar Pradesh rules India. That situation was no longer true for the Congress after the upsurge of Mandal politics. But to lose Rae Bareli or Amethi would dent the Congress’s confidence beyond repair.

Imagine for a moment that Sonia loses Rae Bareli. That is the predominant fear in the Congress today. Can you fathom the consequences of this for the Congress party? In her time, Indira Gandhi lost too, but she had a comeback capacity that Sonia clearly lacks. The fact also is that Sonia Gandhi is stuck with a failed scion and dynast. She pulled back from active politics due to her own handicaps and to propel ahead her son. In that schema, and also due to health issues, the attention required by the failed Central government, and troubles with coalition allies, she neglected Rae Bareli. But what is her real incentive to give one hundred per cent to politics as before when her son cannot derive advantage? And till Rahul Gandhi doesn’t firmly bow out of active politics, she cannot and will not put her weight behind Priyanka, although her daughter hasn’t lived to her earlier promise.

All these calculations are behind the desperate sops for Rae Bareli and Amethi. At the highest level of political leaderships, there is usually understanding about key personalities. This way, Rae Bareli was a safe seat for Sonia Gandhi. But the panicky sops suggest such understandings no longer exist. Mulayam Singh and Mayawati may not be above pushing their luck in the two Nehru-Gandhi constituencies, because the Bharatiya Janata Party is preparing to give serious battle for every Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh, which will decide the next government and prime minister. So, suddenly, Amethi and Rae Bareli have acquired sharp salience for the Congress party’s do-or-die battle in the coming elections. The gloves are off. And the contest looks tilted against the Nehru-Gandhis.