The grapevine is abuzz that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, newly-inducted into the Congress as the party’s Eastern Uttar Pradesh general secretary, is likely to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections later this year. While some nurse the theory that she may contest from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi if chooses to stand for re-election from the constituency, the Congress first dynasty has usually gone to the family borough constituencies of Amethi or Rae Bareli. Congress President Rahul Gandhi is the sitting MP from Amethi and former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is the sitting member from Rae Bareli. The chain of inheriting these constituencies began after Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi’s grandfather Feroze Gandhi contested from Rae Bareli in 1951 in the first-ever elections in free India. Before the rest of the speculation and theories drown us, let us look at the three individuals from the Gandhi family who contested the Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh. The state had been a Congress bastion well into the 1980s until VP Singh first, Mulayam Singh Yadav next, the BSP and the BJP last near-uprooted the party from the Uttar Pradesh which sends the largest contingent of 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
He was the first among the three Gandhis to contest his first election from Amethi Lok Sabha constituency, which was a bypoll in the aftermath of his brother Sanjay’s death in an air crash in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi’s principal opponent was S Yadav of Lok Dal (LKD). Rajiv Gandhi won 2,58,884 votes and emerged victorious while his rival S Yadav managed to get only 21,183 votes. In the 1984 elections after Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her bodyguards, Rajiv Gandhi won a huge mandate and won by a margin of 3 lakh votes.
The 1984 election saw Rajiv Gandhi contesting from Amethi and requires special mention as another Gandhi family member marked her launch from the constituency. She was Maneka Gandhi, who after falling out with her mother-in-law late Indira Gandhi, formed the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch. She lost to Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 by a huge margin. While Rajiv gathered 3,65,041 (83.7%), Maneka Gandhi could only muster 50,163 votes as an Independent. This election again had the gloomy backdrop of the Indira Gandhi assassination which led to the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, perpetrators of which are still being brought to justice 35 years later.
The Italy-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi had vowed to keep away from active politics. But 8 years after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a Sri Lankan Tamil human bomb in 1991, she had to succumb to pressure from the Congress after its dismal performance in the elections before 1999. She too began her political career from Amethi and came up with an impressive win over her opponent, Dr Sanjay Singh of the BJP. Sonia Gandhi polled 4,18,960 votes and Sanjay Singh got 1,18,948 votes. This contest hinged upon the question of nationality of Sonia Gandhi and if the Congress could find another worthy candidate to lead the party.
In 2004, Rahul Gandhi contested from Amethi and defeated BSP candidate Chandra Prakash Mishra. While Rahul bagged 3,90,179 votes, 99,326 votes were polled for his rival. The popular disenchantment with the India Shining campaign of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and other reasons brought its attempt for re-election to a shuddering halt and the United Progressive Alliance, a coalition of centrist and left parties led by the Congress, came to power.
Now, the onus is on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to woo voters in the biggest chunk of the Hindi heartland with her charisma and hard work. That alone will help her party convincingly and live up to the Congress expectations of #NayiUmeedNayaDesh.