New Delhi: As you drive into Rae Bareli, 80-odd kilometers away from Lucknow, the fact that it is a Gandhi family bastion is drilled into you in a manner you would never forget. Congress flags mark the boundary of almost every house, shop or any other commercial building. Posters bearing party slogans or pictures of Sonia Gandhi adorn the entire town and there is an unmistakable feeling in the air - of loyalty and love for the first family of India. Houses or shops which bear symbols of other parties are very few and as far between.
Click here to watch video
Stop anywhere in the town and you re unlikely to find someone who does not vote for Sonia Gandhi, though given that her opponents in the 2004 Lok Sabha election did get some votes (her nearest rival from SP got 1,28,342 votes), there obviously is a section which is anti-Congress. But that is difficult to come by. Or perhaps, a few dissenting voices get drowned in an atmosphere of overwhelming devotion and love for the Gandhi family.
Not everybody necessarily speaks highly of them. Some admit development has been ignored so far while some casually mention how Sonia Gandhi comes there only when ”she needs to”. However, these complaints are more indulgent than anything else and despite these, people emphatically tell us they would vote for Sonia. It is because Rae Barelitreats the Gandhi clan like family. People in this constituency do not look at Sonia, Rahul or Priyanka as any different from their own kin and consider it their duty to vote for them, come what may.
”We have been voting for Congress forever. Indiraji was like my mother, Rajiv was like a brother, Soniaji is my sister-in-law and Priyanka and Rahul are like my own children. I know they might not feel as strongly about me individually but they are definitely attached to the people of Rae Bareli. We will always support the Congress, whether or not they do well, just as we support our family always. We do not expect much from them in return,” says 75-year old Munni Bai, a fruit vendor in Rae Bareli, as she best sums up the devotion and strong emotions the entire constituency harbors for the Gandhis.
The opposition though is trying very hard to break this wall of trust, accusing Sonia Gandhi of betraying the people and taking their emotions for granted. Much of this effort, however, is in vain.
It is 12:30 in the afternoon and Priyanka Gandhi, who is stationed here till polling on Thursday, is scheduled to address a group of workers and their family behind the ITI (Indian Telephones Industries) office. A large crowd -men, women, young girls and boys - gathers at the spot, braving the blazing sun and soaring temperatures. It is 1:30 pm and Priyanka is about to arrive; the crowd has not thinned down despite the heat and the enthusiasm to see her has not waned.
As she finally steps out of her car after people have waited for almost an hour, a loud cheer greets her. Her rally, as always, is an instant success and her call for ”blessings” for her mother are greeted with love and assurance. Neither the harsh sun nor the dusty afternoon heat can dampen Rae Bareli’s affection for the Gandhis.
At least for the foreseeable future, it is impossible to take away the Gandhis from Rae Bareli, as hard as anyone might try. They are after all, part of one big, devoted family.