New Delhi,May 23,2019: Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party, congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi this evening for his spectacular re-election and asked him to "take care of the interests of the country"; the 48-year-old also conceded defeat in Amethi, asking political opponent and BJP leader Smriti Irani to "nurture with love" the constituency that has been his family stronghold for nearly four decades.
On a day that saw Mr Modi, 68, return to power with numbers that surpass his record mandate of 2014, Mr Gandhi said he would not take questions about his own accountability for his party’s crushing defeat - the Congress is placed to win just 52 seats as compared to 44 in the last general election. "Today is not the day for that," he said, claiming that attention must remain for now on Mr Modi’s victory and the unanimous choice of the people.
"Janata maalik hai," he said (we report to the people), adding, however, that his party workers must fear not ("daro mat"). "We will win eventually," he said, reiterating that the Congress vs BJP is a contest of ideologies.
Rahul Gandhi is also contesting from Wayanad in Kerala, where he is leading.
But losing Amethi is a huge loss of face for the 48-year-old politician, whose leadership of the Congress is also being called to question after the party’s defeat.
"I congratulate Smriti Irani. I respect the people’s decision," said the Congress president.
Amethi, a dusty, largely rural constituency around 130 km from UP capital Lucknow, has rarely looked beyond the Congress or the Gandhi family.
"TsuNAMO TsunAMI NaMo 2.0 Dhanyawad Bharat #VijayiBharat," tweeted Smriti Irani, who campaigned aggressively in Amethi. In 2014, she had lost to Rahul Gandhi from Amethi but had managed to reduce his winning margin to one lakh. That should have served as enough warning for the Congress that it could not take the constituency for granted.
Smriti Irani kept visiting the constituency regularly over the past five years and virtually stationed herself in Amethi during her campaign.
Rahul Gandhi, his party’s chief campaigner across India, hardly went to his constituency in the run-up to the polls. He was accused by the BJP of neglecting Amethi.
At the height of the election campaign, the Congress president visited Amethi only once, when he held a roadshow before filing his nomination papers. His sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned in Amethi and her mother Sonia Gandhi’s Raebareli and visited the constituencies several times.
Rahul Gandhi’s struggle was telling in a Congress stronghold that has remained with the Gandhi family for decades.
The Congress has not lost the seat in the last three decades, except in 1998.
Amethi, one of the only two Congress seats in 80-seat Uttar Pradesh along with Sonia Gandhi’s Raebareli, is a big acquisition for the BJP if the trends continue.