Amethi and Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh are perhaps the best-known Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. Since 1999, these two constituencies have been represented by Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the daughter-in-law and grandson of Indira Gandhi.

But another constituency in the state, Pilibhit, has been represented by a separate branch of the Gandhi dynasty for even longer – Indira Gandhi’s other daughter-in-law, Maneka Gandhi, and the former prime minister’s other grandson Varun Gandhi have held the seat since 1996.

Though Maneka Gandhi won the Pilibhit seat as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014, the organisation decided to have her swap seats with her son Varun for the 2019 polls. As a result, Varun Gandhi contested from Pilibhit while Maneka Gandhi stood from Sultanpur.

The party’s decision is thought to have been made in light of the fact that Maneka Gandhi will have a better chance than her son in navigating the triangular contest in Sultanpur.

In Pilibhit, Varun Gandhi is facing an easier contest against former MLA Hemraj Verma, fielded by the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance.

Varun Gandhi’s opponent Hemraj Verma is from the backward Lodh caste and is banking on the support of the sizeable number of Lodhs, Dalits and Muslims, who constitute about 10 lakh of the 15 lakh voters in the constituency.

A good government college, improved connectivity with nearby districts and a better sewer system were some of the demands of the area’s voters.

Man-animal conflict was a major issue since tigers have killed 25 people since 2017 in 300 villages at the edge of a reserve in the area, the Hindustan Times reported. Though Verma promised to look into these matters and went on a four-day fast last year to demand compensation for the families of people killed in the tiger attacks, it does not seem enough to unseat the Gandhis from Pilibhit.

Triangular contest in Sultanpur

In Sultanpur, Maneka Gandhi has faced a more tricky battle. She was up against Chandra Bhadra Singh alias Sonu Singh of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the “Raja of Amethi” Sanjay Singh of the Congress. Sanjay Singh – a former close associate of Maneka Gandhi’s husband Sanjay Gandhi – represented Sultanpur in Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2014.

Whether the BJP will emerge victorious will depend to a large extent on how votes are divided between the Congress and the alliance of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The saffron party will also need to win a major chunk of the votes of the constituency’s non-Jatav Dalits and the non-Yadav Other Backward Classes, The New Indian Express noted.

Maneka Gandhi, however, made the contest harder for herself when she was filmed threatening Muslims that they were unlikely to receive her help if they failed to vote for her. “I am winning, but if my victory is without Muslims, I will not feel good, because then there is a bitter feeling,” Gandhi said last month. “If Muslims come for some work after that I will think ‘why bother?’. Because employment is a negotiation after all, isn’t that right? We are not Mahatma Gandhi’s children to keep giving without getting anything in return.”

The Election Commission took notice of the minister’s comments and banned her from campaigning from April 16 to 18.

Veiled threat

But Gandhi appeared undeterred by the sanctions and shortly after told voters in Pilibhit that she would grade villages according to the number of votes her son received. Villages that voted for him in larger numbers would receive more development projects, she said.

Varun Gandhi attempted to placate Muslims in Pilibhit after his mother’s speech in Sultanpur, saying he will offer them jobs even if they do not vote for him. However, while campaigning for his mother in Sultanpur, he was caught on video making derogatory remarks about Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Sonu Singh. At a public meeting, he said that it is people like Singh who untie his shoelaces. He claimed that people in a village had told him that they were afraid of Singh and his brother and were reportedly receiving threats at night.

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