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I Worked In Amethi For 5 Years, Rahul Gandhi Was Absent For 15: Smriti Irani

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Rahul Gandhi chose not to fight from Amethi because doing so would have been tough and the contest in the constituency is a reflection of the work she has done for five years and his “absence” of 15 years, Union Minister Smriti Irani has said.

In an exclusive interview with NDTV days before the constituency votes on Monday, the BJP leader spoke on a range of issues, including her and her party’s development credentials, the differences in people’s lives since she became the MP in 2019, the Ram Temple, employment generation and the Prajwal Revanna sex crimes case. 

The Women and Child Development Minister and sitting MP from Amethi is the BJP candidate from the constituency, which she had lost to Rahul Gandhi and then won in 2019. The defeat came as a shock to the Congress because the constituency was a party and Gandhi family bastion, having been held nearly uninterrupted since 1967. 

The Amethi seat was represented by Rahul Gandhi’s uncle Sanjay Gandhi, father Rajiv Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi, among others, before the Gandhi scion was elected from there thrice, starting 2004. Ms Irani’s opponent this time is Kishori Lal Sharma, a Gandhi family loyalist who has worked in Amethi for 40 years, who was picked after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chose not to contest the elections and Rahul Gandhi decided to fight from the party’s lone remaining bastion in Uttar Pradesh, Raebareli.

Asked whether her task of trying to win again from Amethi would have been tougher if Mr Gandhi had contested, Ms Irani said, “No, it was tougher for him, that’s why he chose not to fight. I have been asking for that fight for a good four months because I was very clear that we have worked on the ground. And there’s a stark comparison between my work of five years and his absence of 15 years as MP. And it would become difficult for the family, on every crossroad of this constituency, to give an explanation.”

A confident Ms Irani said anti-incumbency will not be a factor in the constituency, partly because it “isn’t very enamoured with the Gandhi siblings”. She said Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi were tested in the 2022 Assembly elections as well and, of the five Assembly segments in the Amethi Lok Sabha seat, the Congress lost its deposit in four and was defeated by the BJP in the fifth too.

“I fight the Congress ecosystem. I don’t fight one candidate. I’m sure you have noticed that the Congress Party has assigned a former chief minister (Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot) to this particular constituency after declaring through their communication head that I had no ‘aukaat’ (status or importance), which is very weird. If I had no ‘aukaat’, the Gandhi family would not have to hold meetings at every street corner,” she said.

Development In Amethi

The BJP leader said the Congress and the Gandhi family had held the “so-called bastion” of Amethi for five decades and claimed that 16 lakh people in a population of 23-24 lakh in the constituency did not have access to toilets and 1.5 lakh families did not have electricity connections. 

Stating that this has been fixed in the five years she has been an MP, the minister said, “There have been projects which have been demanded for 30 years and (were) never fulfilled. We could build those bypasses, connect Amethi to an expressway, build a trauma centre here. There are also certain basic administrative infrastructural units that we are building here, like the chief medical officer’s office, the police lines, the first dialysis centre, the first CT scan machine. Many people don’t realise that we are building this whole place from scratch.”

She also said that 19 lakh people in the constituency are getting food under the free ration scheme of the Narendra Modi government and said this was an indicator of “inter-generational poverty” in Amethi, which is a challenge she and the BJP have been fighting. 

Highlighting some of her other achievements, Ms Irani referred to the large turnout of women in a street corner gathering in the constituency earlier in the day and said they turned up because they had been affected by changes in the development pattern.

On employment, she said, “This is a constituency which, in 15 years of Rahul Gandhi as an  absentee MP, saw close to 499 factories shutting down. Today, in five years – and this can be substantiated – we now have 13,000 MSMEs (Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises) registered with the government. Asia’s largest Coca-Cola bottling plant is in Amethi. Uttar Pradesh’s largest poultry and feedstock plant is now in Amethi. We have given loans to street hawkers to 5,200 people in this constituency and Mudra loans to 1 lakh people and our NPA (non-performing assets) is less than 2.5%.”

Ms Irani also stressed that 90,000 women in her constituency had benefited from the Prime Minister’s cash transfer scheme for reproductive and maternal health.

Ram Temple

Asked about the Ram Temple as an election issue, the BJP leader said it was not an issue but “a part of our ethos, a part of our way of life”. Answering the Opposition’s claims that the BJP intends to change the Constitution if it gets to its target of 400 seats for the NDA, Ms Irani pointed out the BJP had an “overwhelming majority” but waited for the Supreme Court verdict before work began on the temple. 

“This was a promise of constitutional discipline and adherence to norms or framework set by the Supreme Court of India, which we complied with. So I think when the Prime Minister speaks about the Ram Mandir or any BJP member speaks about the Ram Mandir from the context of respecting the Supreme Court judgment, were we not right? Did we not comply? We did. Did we not show patience? We did. And this is after having an overwhelming majority; still waited to ensure that the constitutional structure to ensure justice is in no way damaged,” she said.

Karnataka Sex Tapes

Hassan MP and Lok Sabha candidate Prajwal Revanna, whose party, the Janata Dal Secular, is an ally of the BJP, has been on the run since tapes of him allegedly sexually assaulting women began doing the rounds last month. 

He had left for Germany, and when the Women and Child Development Minister was asked why his passport was not being cancelled, she said, “We know that law and order is a state subject. The National Commission for Women has given a notice to the state government. I am constrained to pass an official order because of the model code of conduct… I think not only me, the entire BJP leadership, including the Home Minister, has been more than vehement on this issue.”

 Rahul Gandhi chose not to fight from Amethi because doing so would have been tough and the contest in the constituency is a reflection of the work she has done for five years and his “absence” of 15 years, Union Minister Smriti Irani has said.    

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