The Bharatiya Janata Party has set in motion a strategy, which, it hopes, will help it win the Gandhi family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, currently represented by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and party president Sonia Gandhi. At a strategy session organised this week in New Delhi, party president Amit Shah asked the party’s leaders if the BJP could win 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, why it could not win all the seats in the state, including Amethi and Rae Bareli. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Congress won only Amethi and Rae Bareli from UP.

Shah’s confidence regarding the two seats stems from the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, in which the BJP made a huge dent in these Congress bastions by winning six of the 10 Assembly seats in the two districts. The Congress lost all the four seats it contested in Amethi. In the 2012 Assembly elections, the BJP did not win a single seat in either Amethi or Rae Bareli.

There is already considerable resentment against the Congress among the people in the two constituencies. Recently, “missing” posters depicting Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were pasted all over Amethi and Rae Bareli, highlighting their alleged negligence towards their constituencies. Rahul Gandhi last visited the constituency on 19 February this year. The Congress unit in UP has alleged that the citizens’ posters were actually the BJP’s handiwork. The BJP, on the other hand, said that it was Congress itself which had put up the posters,. BJP leaders said that “the Congress is missing its leaders more than us”.

A BJP team, said sources, is working round the clock to get feedback from the people at the grassroots. A senior leader, Mahendra Singh, a Union minister, has been visiting the area regularly and discussing local issues with party workers and giving his feedback to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other BJP leaders.

Sources added that the BJP is also planning to identify a local face who can be fielded against Rahul Gandhi in 2019. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had fielded Smriti Irani, currently a Union minister, who gave a tough fight to the Congress vice president, reducing Rahul Gandhi’s victory margin considerably. Though a member of the Rajya Sabha, Irani has been visiting Amethi frequently, targeting Rahul Gandhi.

However, this time around, there is major buzz that the party may opt for someone from within the Congress to take on Rahul. Speculation is rife that Sanjay Singh, a Congress Rajya Sabha member from Assam, could be that “insider”. Sanjay Singh is no stranger to BJP. In 1998, he had contested on a BJP ticket and defeated Congress’ Satish Sharma. However, in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, Singh got defeated by Sonia Gandhi. Sanjay Singh later returned to the Congress. Sanjay Singh is a local, in that he belongs to the erstwhile ruling family of Amethi and has a substantial base in the area. He is known as the “Raja of Amethi” locally. However, that did not help him get his second wife, Amita elected from the Amethi seat in the UP Assembly elections held earlier this year. The seat was won by his first wife, Garima Singh, who got the voters’ sympathy as the wife who was deserted by Sanjay Singh for marrying Amita. BJP sources say that Sanjay Singh is not averse to their party, and is also unhappy with the way things are in the Congress, and thus could do a “ghar wapsi”.

The BJP has decided to expose what it calls the “non-performance” of the two Congress leaders in carrying out development work in their respective constituencies, despite these seats being their traditional strongholds. A regional AIIMS for Rae Bareli was cleared in 2009, but the project is still a non-starter.

Sources say that during the strategy meeting, Shah emphasised on the “new catchment areas” where the BJP needs to focus on. These areas are situated in the coastal parts of the country and have the potential to add around 110 completely new seats to the party’s kitty. Thus, the party will focus on states like West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, while trying to consolidate its position in states where it is traditionally strong.

The strategy session was attended by Union ministers J.P. Nadda, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Ananth Kumar, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Manoj Sinha, apart from many senior leaders from the organisation.

The Amethi-Rae Bareli strategy, according to sources, is part of the BJP’s long-term “Congress-mukt Bharat” plan.

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