After Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification, the spotlight is back on Amethi as SP hints it may field a candidate there

File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressing supporters in Amethi.
| Photo Credit: PTI

After last week’s disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha member, following his conviction and sentencing by a Surat court, the spotlight is back on the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh, which was represented by the Congress leader till 2019.

It was believed that Mr. Gandhi would contest from Amethi or from the other traditional family seat of Rae Bareli in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. However, after his conviction and disqualification, Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders are confused about what will happen next and whether Mr. Gandhi will be able to contest from the seat.

‘Sympathy wave’

Most U.P. Congress leaders put on a brave face, claiming that Mr. Gandhi would be able to contest, and arguing that the disqualification had generated a wave of sympathy for the former party president who had represented Amethi for 15 years in the Lok Sabha.

However, a few remain sceptical, not only due to the court conviction, but also due to the continuous attacks from the Samajwadi Party (SP), which had earlier paved the way for the Congress by not putting up a candidate for the Amethi seat since 1998.

“There is a wave of sympathy for Rahul ji in Amethi, particularly due to the emotional bond the Gandhi family shares with the people in the district and across U.P. in general. People feel he has been victimised for bringing the wrongdoings of the government in the forefront. People will teach a tough lesson to the BJP in Amethi,” Pramod Tiwari, deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, told The Hindu. He added that it should not be concluded that Mr. Gandhi would be not fighting the 2024 election as the trial court had given him a month’s time to file an appeal.

Many other U.P. Congress leaders feel that legal respite is evident, which would make Mr. Gandhi eligible to contest from Amethi. “There is a legal question and a political question. We are hopeful of getting legal respite from a higher court; over the political question, the decision will be for the Gandhi family to take — be it Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi or in case Priyanka Gandhi [Vadra] — from where they want to contest, as there are 80 Lok Sabha seats in U.P. As the U.P. president, we are hopeful that they decide to contest from the State,” U.P. Congress chief Brijlal Khabri told The Hindu.

SP’s Amethi ambitions

Other Congress leaders and those following the recent development vis-a-vis the Gandhi family in U.P. argue that the conviction had further complicated the puzzle, given that the SP, the principal Opposition party in the State, has been hinting of contesting from the Gandhi family’s traditional pocket borough. “Next time Amethi will not elect big people but people with big hearts. SP takes a pledge to eradicate poverty from Amethi,” SP national president Akhilesh Yadav said in a recent tweet.

“Everyone here is tight-lipped, but the tension can be sensed. As of now, Rahul ji is not eligible, Sonia ji’s health is not in good shape — would she be able to contest from Rae Bareli? The SP clearly signalled giving a candidate. These are testing times, would Priyanka ji take a lead after the disastrous result of 2022?” said another U.P. Congress leader, who did not wish to be named.

‘Congress must contest’

Amid changing political equations, analysts feel that even if the former Congress president becomes eligible to contest, the electoral road to Amethi or Rae Bareli is not easy. “The loss of Amethi in 2019 gave a major signal to the Gandhi family. It was a manifestation of their increasing gap from the Hindi heartland and the middle classes,” said Manindra Nath Thakur, a political scientist teaching at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“The Gandhi family cannot afford to leave Amethi or Rae Bareli in 2024 even if Rahul Gandhi is ineligible to contest. These traditional seats highlight that the grand old party’s first family is still in the imagination of the people living in the cow belt,” he added.

Mr. Gandhi’s loss to the BJP’s Smriti Irani in the 2019 parliamentary poll was considered the biggest upset of the election. After his loss, his sister and Congress general secretary Ms. Vadra took over the Congress campaign for the 2022 Vidhan Sabha polls in U.P. Despite a spirited campaign, the Congress polled only 2.33% of the votes, its lowest ever in the U.P. Assembly, with the 2022 election witnessing a bipolar battle between the BJP and an SP-led alliance.

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