A litmus test awaits the Gandhis in their bastion Amethi, which votes on Monday in the fifth of the seven-phased Uttar Pradesh assembly election.Having been loyal to the Congress party and the Gandhi surname for decades, the constituency first gave the family jitters in the 2014 general election when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and now Union Minister Smriti Zubin Irani gave the dynasty's scion Rahul Gandhi a run for his money.Over the years, the Congress has seen a steady decline from the heydays when it dominated the family pocket borough. In 2007, the party had won three seats of the five assembly seats that make up the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency, and Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had won one each.In the 2012 assembly polls, the Congress managed to win just two of the five seats. Subsequently, one of its legislators moved to the BSP, leaving it with just one MLA from the party stronghold. The SP had won three seats in 2012 and had come second in the remaining two.The electoral matrix this time is even tougher, despite an alliance with Uttar Pradesh's ruling SP.
As the two parties are contesting the crucial polls together this time, the Congress was hoping that all its candidates would romp home comfortably.But things did not pan out quite that way. The SP and the Congress could not thrash out a compromise formula in time and withdraw one of the candidates, forcing the Amethi battle into a three-cornered one.A resurgent BJP has fielded Garima Singh, the first wife of senior Congress leader and the local "raja" Sanjay Sinh, against his second wife Ameeta Sinh, the Congress candidate. And the SP has fielded one of its controversial ministers, Gayatri Prajapati.While Ameeta Sinh is a three-time legislator and has been a minister in the state government, the going is tough for her this time. "Other than being the 'rani', there is nothing much else that she has to boast of," says political watcher Abhiram Mishra in Amethi.At stake is not only the Congress' prestige but also that of "Raja" Sanjay Sinh, who is a Rajya Sabha member.
Locals do not seem to be enthused by the poor state of roads, erratic power supply in the area and soaring crime in the region.Gayatri Prajapati, the tainted minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government, though has suffered a loss of face owing to a string of charges against him, from rape to intimidation, but has some local connect which positions him to hold his own in the race.Garima Singh is a political novice but is gaining support and sympathy for the "treatment meted out to her by Raja Saheb". Her children are campaigning for her while she just gestures to people with folded hands and smiles off and on.There is a growing worry in the Congress camp that with the division of votes between the two candidates, the BJP might benefit.Once a constituency taken for granted by the Gandhis, it has now become top priority for Rahul Gandhi who is holding rallies here. Polling in neighbouring Rae Bareli, represented by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, concluded on Thursday. While Rahul and Priyanka Vadra did campaign there, the absence of Sonia -- for the first time since 1999 -- could prove crucial, political observers feel.Whether their bastion is still with the Gandhis or has crumbled, March 11 will tell.