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Flanked By Mother, Sister, Rahul Files Nomination

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Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination papers from the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency on Saturday (12 April). Gandhi, the incumbent member from Amethi, is locked in a three-cornered contest in Amethi, with the Bharatiya Janata Party fielding TV's 'favourite bahu' Smriti Irani and the Aam Aadmi Party Kumar Vishwas. While Vishwas has been camping in Amethi for the last two months, Irani has also been in town for the last few days. Both leaders have accused Rahul Gandhi of neglecting development in his constituency.

Amethi is going to polls on May 7 and Rahul is contesting for the third consecutive time to retain the seat.

Rahul also rejected criticism that he made a personal attack against Narendra Modi by referring to his marital status, saying he just stated that he had previously not mentioned about his wife in poll affidavits.

No Personal Comment Agaiinst Modi
"I did not get personal. I just stated that on his affidavits he had previously not mentioned something. So it's not a personal thing," Rahul told reporters here soon after filing his nomination papers for the Lok Sabha polls.

He was responding to a question on his raking up the marital status of Modi while addressing a rally in Jammu and Kashmir on 11 April.

Flanked by his mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka, the Congress Vice-President also rubbished the projection of opinion polls that his party will lose elections.

He said Congress had been written off by the opinion polls in 2004 as well as 2009 but those did not prove to be correct.

"They (opinion polls) kept saying Congress will lose but you know what happened," he said, referring to his party's unexpected victories in last two Lok Sabha elections.

Asked about polarising statements made by leaders of various political parties, he said attempts to polarise elections take place every time and Congress will take everybody along

Priyanka also said that Rahul had not made any personal attack on Modi.

"I don't think he made a personal attack. He made a point that something was missing from the affidavit before. Besides, I don't think they (BJP) are in a position to talk about personal attacks," she said.

Rahul expressed confidence about victory from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, the Nehru-Gandhi family pocketborough where BJP has fielded Smriti Irani and AAP has Kumar Vishwas.

He said he has family relations with Amethi and "We will have a good victory."

Rahul said he had focussed on three things for development of Amethi -- working with women bodies, connecting the area with national highways and railways and developing food park.

He will focus on these issues in the future also to generate more employment for youths, he said.

Rahul along with Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka and her husband Robert Vadra, reached Amethi after conducting a roadshow through adjoining Sultanpur where his cousin Varun Gandhi is contesting on a BJP ticket.

The roadshow was conducted on a 42-km stretch between Amhart in Sultanpur and Gauriganj in Amethi.

The event evoked curosity as this is for the first time Rahul is organising such a political campaign from Sultanpur constituency where another Gandhi family member if fighting against a Congress candidate.

How Will Cong Fare At The Centre?
Apparently resigned to a poor performance in this election, some Congress insiders have started trying to put a positive spin on a likely spell in opposition.

"Being in opposition in democratic politics gives a great opportunity to the party," Mani Shankar Aiyar, a senior Congress official and former government minister, told Reuters. "We need to democratise the party."

Another senior party member said: "This is a tough election. At the moment, the BJP appears to have an advantage."

Officially, Congress says the opinion polls have got it wrong and it will emerge as the single largest party.

"We're extremely confident," said party spokesman Sanjay Jha. "After Rahul Gandhi said we'll win, we've been especially upbeat. Poll findings will have no bearing."

Nevertheless, some Congress members have said the inability of 43-year-old Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, to effectively counter Modi has led to its woes. And although Gandhi has vowed to revitalise the party, they doubt he has the acumen to eventually lead it back to power.

Some senior members of Congress had favoured sister Priyanka and a newspaper report had quoted senior general secretary Janardan Dwivedi as saying that Priyanka Gandhi had been interested in "political developments and the language of politics" since an early age.

In a party where Rahul Gandhi is at least publicly seen as the unquestioned heir, the report had created a storm.

Priyanka has restricted her political activities to supporting her brother and campaigning in her mother Sonia Gandhi's constituency. But many Congress faithful see her easy campaign style and marked resemblance to her grandmother, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, as a sign that she could revive the party's fortunes.

Doesn't Have Confidence
On the stump, Rahul Gandhi, the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, draws crowds but even those in the audience do not fancy his chances.

Kept waiting for hours, thousands of listless young supporters in Aurangabad, a down-at-heel district in Bihar state, come alive as Gandhi's helicopter descends, throwing up a plume of dust.

With a designer stubble and wearing white cotton 'kurta' tunic over blue jeans, Gandhi strides onto a rickety stage. Pushing up his sleeves, he appeals in his speech to core Congress voters.

"We want the poor to feel that they are a part of this nation. This is our dream for India," Gandhi tells a crowd that appears enthused more by his celebrity appeal than his rhetoric.

Despite criticism that his brand of Hindu nationalist politics is divisive, Modi has dominated the campaign. He has focused on effective government and creating jobs, which has resonated better with the country's 815 million voters.

Congress, which has been in power for the last decade, has struggled to overcome a series of corruption scandals, slowing economic growth and an inability to push policy.

At the election meeting, insurance agent Dharmendra Singh came early to get a ringside view of Gandhi. But he will cast his vote for Modi, impressed by a stint working in the western state of Gujarat which the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate has led for the past decade.

"There's no graft. There's 24-hour electricity," says the 25-year-old. "I want to see Narendra Modi as prime minister."

Away from the rally, teacher Kamala Devi had come to Aurangabad to visit the district school office. A lifelong Congress voter, when asked about Rahul Gandhi, Devvi said: "He doesn't take a stand. He doesn't have confidence." says Devi, 56. "What they want to do is good. Their thinking is good, but they don't get things done."

The turning point of the election campaign, many analysts say, was Gandhi's first major television interview in January, which he fluffed.

Asked if he was afraid of losing the election to Modi, he replied in the third person: "Rahul Gandhi and millions of youngsters in this country want to change the way the system in this country works."

Gandhi appeared nervous and ill-prepared and the interview was widely criticised as a public relations disaster. He has not given any others since.

"How can he reform the system that made him what he is?" said Mohan Guruswamy, a political analyst. "It would have been a smart strategy if he was an outsider. But now it looks contrived."

Although any talk of a role Priyanaka Gandhi may have in Congress is nascent, it has begun. One strategist, however, described her as an ace in the sleeve, and not to be used now.

"There's the feeling that this is not the best election in terms of our prospects, so why waste our ace?" said the strategist, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity due the sensitivity of the matter.

(Agencies)