Battle of Amethi: A presidential contest amid a parliamentary poll?

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The battle of Amethi in the war called Lok Sabha election 2014 is being fought hard. The Gandhis, who perhaps panicked after witnessing the massive turnout in each of the polling phases held so far, brought in Priyanka Gandhi in the last minute to launch a direct attack on Narendra Modi to double the impact.

Priyanka headed Congress's Bash Modi project

The sister of Rahul Gandhi, although not a politician, began attacking the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for targetting her family, husband (surprisingly she did not say anything on Arvind Kejriwal who played a big role in bringing the Robert Vadra case in the open) and also criticised the Gujarat chief minister's model of development. It was essentially a 'Bash Modi as much as you can' project which was launched by the Gandhis.

Amethi in news for a presidential-type contest

On May 5, the BJP decided to pay back and breaking the unwritten law that one heavyweight politician doesn't attack another on his turf, Modi launched a major offensive in Amethi. The humble yet high-profile constituency is perhaps the only one in the country which saw a presidential form of democratic contest been fought out, though between a family and an individual.

Modi's two-pronged attack

Modi's strategy in Amethi was two-faced. On one hand, he targetted the Gandhi family over acts of arrogance and didn't spare the late prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi. One the other hand, he stressed the condition of Amethi and vowed to change its fortune in the next five years. He also promised that he would return to the people of Amethi before the 2019 Lok Sabha election to present the accounts if his party candidate Smriti Irani won this time. Just like Priyanka pushed her brother, Modi backed his 'sister' in the same manner in a contest which is looking increasingly presidential in nature. It would have been a dream come true for the Indian democracy if each of the remaining 542 parliamentary constituencies came under the scanner the way Amethi has in recent times.

Can the other 542 constituencies be also scanned the way Amethi has been?

Modi, however, did not take Priyanka Gandhi's name during his rally, perhaps because she is not a political figure but by establishing a sisterly relation with the BJP candidate whom Priyanka derided the other day and by calling Rahul Gandhi whom he generally refers to as Shehzade as "Rahul Bhaiya", Modi gave an indirect reply to the third Gandhi. But the most powerful poke at Priyanka Gandhi came when Modi raked up Rajiv Gandhi's humiliating late Andhra Pradesh chief minister G Anjaiah in the early 1980s. It was a painful blow for Priyanka Gandhi and she hit back later by accusing Modi of insulting her father. This is what the BJP exactly wanted.

Gandhis' two errors

The Gandhis have committed two big errors at a crucial moment in the election. First, to limit their prime focus in and around Rae Bareli and Amethi. Had the party decided to unleash the Priyanka factor across the nation at the last minute, then the BJP perhaps would have never thought of zeroing in on Amethi the way it did and expose the inner stories of the Gandhi pocket. But having said that, assigning Priyanka a national role could be a threat to the Rahul Gandhi factor. But Priyanka has done better than her brother in the cameo she has played so far and could have been utilised better.

Secondly, the Gandhis looked inside the family to counter Modi while the right way was to look beyond it. They kept on playing the 'family is martyr' and 'Modi is communal' cards but they couldn't understand that just like the anti-riot sentiments, pro-Rajiv or Indira sentiments have lost their sheen in today's times.

If 2002 is past, the 1980s and 1990s are far too away for today's generation and talks like 'he insulted my father' are not going to woo people much, unless they are blindly loyal to the word 'Gandhi'. Priyanka Gandhi's political position has already been weakened by the Vadra fiasco and to make up for the damage, she needed to look to other issues to tackle the BJP and its main leader. But she chose to make the battle a personal issue and gifted the BJP a chance to retaliate.

The Congress's political style needs a 'degree of backwardness' to survive and the same story has been witnessed in Amethi. Bereft of ideology and a crumbling grassroots organisation, the Congress's fortunes today revolves around the Gandhis' ancestral links and they continue to strike the same sentimental chords with their constituencies to remain relevant. But in the dying moments of general elections of 2014, the powerhouse of the grand-old party of India has faced an unprecedented attack on its own turf. Did the battle of Amethi hint at a poetic justice for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?

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