The Amethi Puzzle: Congress Contemplates Candidate Amidst Challenges

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed a historic upset when Rahul Gandhi, scion of the famed political dynasty, faced defeat at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Smriti Irani by a margin of 55,120 votes.

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With inputs from Lokesh kumar Tripathi

As the nation enters the 3rd phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, historically tied to the Nehru-Gandhi family's political legacy and a Congress stronghold, anxiously awaits the party's candidate announcement, which is yet to be made.


However, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed a historic upset when Rahul Gandhi, scion of the famed political dynasty, faced defeat at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Smriti Irani by a margin of 55,120 votes.

The reverberations of Rahul Gandhi's loss in Amethi still continue to shape political discourse.

This election, external factors such as the impact of the Ram temple consecration in Ayodhya and the Congress's stance on contentious issues will further add to the electoral calculus. The party's decision not to attend the ceremony underscores the delicate balance between secular principles and electoral pragmatism in Indian politics.

As part of the Opposition coalition known as INDIA, the Congress party has reached an agreement to contest 17 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The Samajwadi Party (SP), the alliance partner of Congress, will field candidates in the remaining 63 seats. Currently, the SP has announced the names of 20 candidates.

While former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has opted out of electoral politics and Rahul Gandhi has filed a nomination from Wayanad in Kerala, speculation swirls around potential contenders for Amethi and Rae Bareli.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi's brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, has expressed interest in contesting from Amethi. Additionally, posters advocating for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's candidacy in Rae Bareli have surfaced across the constituency. The deadline for filing nominations for both seats is May 3rd.

Now, let’s have a look at Amethi, its history, and political importance

The electoral landscape of Amethi has witnessed significant shifts over the years, reflecting broader trends in Indian politics. Once considered impregnable, the Congress's grip on the constituency has weakened, with factors such as anti-incumbency, the Modi wave, and the emergence of stable non-Congress governments in Uttar Pradesh contributing to Rahul Gandhi's defeat in 2019.

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Amethi Lok Sabha seat is one of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh (UP). It comprises five Vidhan Sabha seats, formed by merging Amethi and Rae Bareli districts. Four Vidhan Sabha seats belong to Amethi district, and one seat belongs to Rae Bareli district.

It has historically been a Congress bastion. However, the BJP's strategic maneuvers and diligent grassroots campaigning, coupled with the Congress's disconnect with local politics, proved decisive in the 2019 elections.

The constituency has a population of 18.67 lakh as per the 2011 Census. Demographically, 25% of the population belongs to the Scheduled Castes, while a minimal fraction (0.01%) represents the Scheduled Tribes.

Smriti IraniSmriti Irani

Since its establishment until 2019, the Congress party has consistently emerged victorious in Amethi, with only two exceptions. In the 1977 elections, the Janata Party's Ravindra Pratap Singh defeated Sanjay Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi family, who faced backlash due to his actions during the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency. Additionally, in 1998, BJP's Sanjaya Sinh secured victory over the incumbent Congress MP Satish Sharma.

The Gandhis who have represented Amethi include Sanjay Gandhi (1980), Rajiv Gandhi (1981, 1984, 1989, 1991), Sonia Gandhi (1999), and Rahul Gandhi (2004, 2009, 2014).

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The performance of Congress party candidates in all assembly constituencies of the Amethi district has been quite poor. The organization of the Congress party is weak at the grassroots level. Instead of working at the grassroots level, Congress leaders and workers focused more on verbal promises. On the other hand, candidates from other parties spoke less but worked more at the grassroots level. This approach led them to success, even in the stronghold of the Congress party.

The fact that Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are prominent faces in the country, and the continual benefit derived from being the son and wife, respectively, of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, also played a role. Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi established their identity in Amethi, with Rahul representing it for 15 years and Sonia Gandhi for 5 years.

Rajiv Gandhi

Rajiv GandhiRajiv Gandhi

During his time in office, Rajiv Gandhi pioneered a wave of infrastructure development and institution-building in Amethi. Following his late brother Sanjay Gandhi's vision, he initiated the establishment of the Jagdishpur Industrial Estate in the 1980s, fostering the growth of various heavy industries such as gas, power, construction, and metal and chemical manufacturing. Furthermore, Rajiv Gandhi's endeavors led to the establishment of mining and medium-scale factories spanning agriculture, real estate, finance, rice mills, transport, storage, and printing sectors.

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Notably, significant healthcare facilities like the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital were inaugurated in 1982. The region also saw the setup of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's Avionics Division in Korwa in 1983 and the Indira Gandhi National Aviation Academy in 1984. His initiatives also improved connectivity to Amethi through the construction of highways linking Lucknow and Varanasi. Additionally, efforts were made to rejuvenate infertile and alkaline lands to boost agricultural production.

Sonia Gandhi

SoniaSonia Gandhi

In 1999, Sonia Gandhi made her foray into active politics by contesting and winning from Amethi, securing a significant mandate with 4,18,960 votes. This marked a pivotal moment in her political journey, following her reluctance to engage in politics after her husband Rajiv Gandhi's demise. Prior to Sonia’s victory, Satish Sharma had represented the constituency in the 1991 bye-election and in 1996, before losing to the BJP's Sanjaya Sinh in 1998. 

However, despite Sonia Gandhi's electoral success, projects in Amethi experienced stagnation during her tenure, and the industries established during Rajiv Gandhi's leadership witnessed a decline.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul GandhiRahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi secured victory in the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency in the years 2004, 2009, and 2014. His electoral success coincided with the surprise defeat of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2004, leading to the formation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Making his debut in electoral politics, Rahul Gandhi, serving as the Congress vice-president, clinched victory by a substantial margin of 2,90,853 votes. He triumphed over both BJP and BSP challengers, solidifying his position in the Gandhi bastion of Amethi.

In subsequent elections in 2009 and 2014, Rahul Gandhi retained his seat with convincing victories. In 2009, he secured a margin of over 3 lakh votes, while in 2014, despite facing the Modi wave, he emerged victorious by 1,07,903 votes. His opponent in 2014 was Smriti Irani of the BJP, who was making her debut in electoral politics.

During the initial decade of Rahul Gandhi's tenure, the UPA held power, with either the BSP or Congress ally SP governing Uttar Pradesh. While several projects were announced in Amethi, delays in clearances stalled many, including the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, Hindustan Paper Mill, a food park in Jagdishpur, and the Samrat Cycle Factory. However, successful initiatives such as the establishment of the Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital & Research Centre in 2005 and local eye camps and self-help groups spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi were notable achievements during this period.

Leading up to the 2014 elections, several projects were inaugurated in Amethi, including the four-lane road connecting Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Amethi-Sultanpur connecting bridge, the Amethi Mega Food Park, and the Amethi Integrated Textile Park.

BJP's Strategy and Congress's Resilience

During the first term of the Modi government, the BJP was accused by the Congress of deliberately halting projects in Amethi. These included initiatives such as a branch of the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Information, a food park project, and a Discovery Park, which remained stalled since 2014. Additionally, the Hindustan Paper Mill was relocated from Amethi in 2015.

However, ahead of the Uttar Pradesh state polls in 2017, the Central government announced a slew of projects worth Rs 702 crore in Amethi. These included the establishment of 140 food processing units, cold chains, the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), the Institute of Hotel Management, the Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI), and a paper mill. The Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology and a Group Centre for the CRPF were also operationalized in Amethi. The BJP secured a landslide victory in the state polls, winning 312 seats, while the Congress was reduced to just seven seats, none of them in Amethi.

From Sanjay Gandhi's initial defeat in 1977 to Rajiv Gandhi's transformative tenure marked by infrastructure development, Amethi has witnessed moments of triumph and adversity for the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi's victory in 1999 and Rahul Gandhi's consecutive wins in 2004, 2009, and 2014 underscore the enduring bond between the Gandhis and Amethi.

However, the 2019 elections marked a watershed moment, with Smriti Irani's victory ending the Nehru-Gandhi family's decades-long dominance in Amethi. The BJP's concerted efforts to address local grievances and deliver development projects resonated with voters, signaling a seismic shift in Amethi's political landscape.

Looking ahead to the 2024 elections, the Congress faces formidable challenges in reclaiming lost ground in Amethi. The party's alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) under the INDIA bloc represents a strategic maneuver to counter the BJP's dominance. However, past experiences, including the failed alliance in the 2017 assembly elections, highlight the complexities of coalition politics in Uttar Pradesh.

In Raebareli, Sonia Gandhi's withdrawal from electoral politics raises questions about the Congress's future trajectory. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's potential candidacy underscores the enduring legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family and its role in shaping the party's fortunes.

As the electoral landscape evolves, Amethi remains a symbol of political flux and reinvention. Rahul Gandhi's potential return to the fray carries with it the weight of history and the imperatives of contemporary politics. Whether the Congress can adapt to changing dynamics and reclaim its erstwhile bastion remains to be seen.


Congress Samajwadi Party Sonia Gandhi Sanjay Gandhi Rajiv Gandhi Smriti Irani Amethi 2024 Lok Sabha elections Rahul Gandhi