Lok Sabha Elections: Smriti Irani now chases Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad

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Smriti Irani, while announcing her victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Amethi, said, “Kaun kehta hai asmaan mein surkh ho nahi sakta…(Who says there can’t be a hole in the sky…). It was a big win because The BJP leader defeated Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in his pocket borough.

Rahul Gandhi became MP after winning Wayanad, a safe seat due to the population of the Kerala seat. He won by a margin of more than 4 lakh votes. The Gandhi family filed their nomination papers from Wayanad on Wednesday.

However, the BJP and Smriti Irani are trying not to let Wayanad be a cakewalk for the scion of the Gandhi family. He managed something in Amethi in 2014, before finally wresting the Uttar Pradesh seat in 2019.

How Smriti Irani wrested Amethi from Rahul Gandhi

Amethi, considered a Congress stronghold, was held by four Gandhis in the past – Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Apart from the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Party won the Uttar Pradesh seat twice.

Before her historic victory in Amethi in 2019, Smriti Irani, a Rajya Sabha MP and a minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, was pitted against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in 2014 as well.

Smriti Irani lost to Rahul Gandhi by one lakh votes in 2014. Although the margin seems large, it was actually bridged by a warlike Smriti Irani.

Rahul Gandhi had won the Amethi seat by a margin of nearly two lakh votes in the two previous Lok Sabha elections of 2004 and 2009, with 66% and 72% vote shares respectively.

The upcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2019, which saw Smriti Irani oust Rahul Gandhi from the Congress-held seat, the Congress party acknowledged Gandhi’s declining popularity in Amethi ahead of the election.

As a result, Rahul Gandhi was fielded from ‘Salamat’ WayanadKerala Lok Sabha constituency, established in 2009, which sent MI Shanwas of the Congress to the Lok Sabha in 2009 and 2014. Shanwas died in 2018 and the seat fell vacant.

Vote share of Congress party in Wayanad Lok Sabha seat in 2009, 2014 and 2019. (Source: ECI, Graphic: Deepu Rai)

Smriti Irani was winning her only seat in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi also filed his nomination from Wayanad.

The apprehensions of the Congress came true.

BJP’s Smriti Irani defeated Rahul Gandhi by 55,000 votesBut Rahul Gandhi reached the parliament in 2019 from the safe seat of Wayanad. Rahul defeated the CPI candidate by a huge margin of 4.3 lakh votes with 64.8% vote share.

NDA candidate Tusshar Vellappalli got only 6.2% votes and had to forfeit his deposit.

Five years later, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has re-nominated Smriti Irani from Amethi. But there is no news that Rahul Gandhi wants to reclaim Amethi, field another high-profile candidate or allow his partner Samajwadi Party to contest from there.

Why Wayanad is a safe seat for Rahul Gandhi

Congress has fielded Rahul Gandhi again from Wayanad and he filed his nomination papers on Wednesday.

In a state where the battle is mostly between the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led LDF, Rahul Gandhi will also face a big BJP leader. BJP has fielded its state president K Surendran from Wayanad.

The LDF has fielded Annie Raja, a popular face of the CPI, against Rahul Gandhi.

Surendran, who has lost three Lok Sabha and five assembly elections, will now get help from Smriti Irani.

“Privileged to have Amethi MP Smriti Irani ji with me for the nomination,” Surendran posted on X.

Smriti will join Irani K Surendran in Wayanad on April 4, his nomination day.

After Amethi, it seems that Smriti Irani is chasing Rahul Gandhi in the South.

K Surendran Wayanad Irani Modi nomination

“Under the dynamic leadership of Smriti Smriti Irani ji, Amethi has seen remarkable growth, passing through an era of ineffective governance. Facing the same challenges as Wayanad, it is time to make a concerted effort towards transformative change,” K Surendran wrote.

A mention of Amethi is no less than rubbing salt in the wounds of a scion of the Gandhi family.

Smriti Irani has also put pressure on Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad. She has been regularly asking him questions about Wayanad, a seat at the tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Wayanad, where the BJP’s vote share was less than 4% in 2009, doubled to nearly 9% by 2014. However, against Rahul Gandhi, BJP partner Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) leader Tushar Vellapalli managed to get only 7.2% vote share. In 2019.

No one doubts that Congress can lose Wayanad, a minority dominated seat. Muslims constitute 32% of the population of Wayanad and Christians 13%.

BJP has often clashed with Rahul Gandhi and Congress over shifting there.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi quipped at a rally in Maharashtra in 2019 that “the Congress dynasty went out with a microscope to find a safe seat to fight and chose a seat where the majority is in the minority.”

BJP challenged Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad

Although the BJP has no illusions, it is not ready to give up Wayanad without a fight.

Pitching the BJP chief against Rahul Gandhi is seen as a calculated aggressive move by the BJP. The move also underlines the seriousness the party attaches to the seat. And here too Smriti Irani has been at the forefront of the attack.

Smriti Irani had said on March 23, “If he lives in Wayanad, he will have to suffer the same fate as Amethi, he will also suffer the same fate as Amethi. So, you (people) have to make sure that he does not live here.”

Earlier in a TV interview in February, he had dared Rahul Gandhi to leave the Wayanad seat. She spoke about Wayanad during her four-day visit to her constituency Amethi. “If he is so confident, let him not contest for Wayanad and let him contest a single Congress seat (from Amethi),” she challenged.

While Surendra accused Rahul Gandhi of being absent from his constituency and not giving any emphasis to development work in Wayanad, he praised Smriti Irani for the development work she had done in Amethi after becoming MP.

“He (Rahul Gandhi) is a big guy. He has connections in India and abroad. What is their contribution? What funds has it brought to Wayanad? What is their prestigious project here? Apart from spending his MPLAD funds, what does he do,” K Surendran asked on Monday.

However, Smriti Irani’s move to Wayanad to support/campaign the BJP candidate cannot be seen as an isolated move.

Smriti Irani is no stranger to Wayanad. He visited Rahul Gandhi’s constituency in 2022.

On his visit to Wayanad, Union Women and Child Development Minister Irani assessed the condition of tribals and verified the implementation of benefits of central schemes.

While Irani was on his Wayanad tour, Allegedly, a video clip of Rahul Gandhi in a nightclub in Nepal went viral.

A frustrated Irani attacked the Wayanad MP for poor implementation of central schemes including ‘Kanya Shiksha Pravesh Utsav’.

“Not much is being done in Wayanad. During the review meeting, officials informed that 57,000 farmers are yet to get Kisan Credit Cards and 1,30,000 families do not have drinking water connections. Digitization of land records is slow. Sickle cell anemia is a major challenge for the tribal people of the district,” the Union minister said.

That Rahul Gandhi was the “missing leader” of Wayanad was reinforced by his BJP rival K Surendran on the issue of human-animal conflict, which has seen a number of deaths in the Wayanad region.

“Wild elephants have visited Wayanad more than Rahul Gandhi,” said Surendran.

Smriti Irani’s visits and mention of Wayanad could be part of BJP’s bigger plan.

“When Smriti Irani stayed in Amethi after losing the 2014 general elections to Rahul, we ignored her politically. But she wrested the constituency from the Congress in 2019. A similar game plan cannot be ruled out in Wayanad,” a senior Congress leader from Kerala told India Today magazine in May 2002.

Published by:

Sushim Mukul

Published on:

April 3, 2024

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