Smriti Irani: The woman who broke the Congress bastion

Rahul Gandhi created a history of sorts on Thursday. He lost the Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, which no Congress leader ever did since 1980. In fact, death took two of its MPs- Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi away from this seat.

It was then taken over by Sonia Gandhi who later had her son and her ‘heir apparent’ to take over. That proved to be a fatal mistake, this election. However, it should be mentioned that Rahul had won from this constituency thrice since 2004.

Irani won, albeit with a margin of over 55,000 votes with Rahul emerging as the runner-up.

Congress grip loosens

Smriti Irani a former model, actress and union HRD minister achieved something only one person ever did---a non-Congress candidate who won from the seat. It has been with the party since 1967, ever since it was created. Only Rajendra Pratap Singh of Janata Party had it post-emergency between 1977-80.

Irani might have gained from the Modi wave in the state and exasperation of the public against the Gandhi family who has been showing up only for elections. In fact, this time around Rahul who has been busy campaigning across the country, never even bothered to show up at his constituency. He sent his sister, Priyanka Gandhi to take up the mantle.

Priyanka was welcomed with posters asking on her brother’s no-show. And, she too was criticized for showing up once in every five years.

The tide has turned

Irani who garnered a margin 49.7% votes, had countered a lack of Gandhi disinterest, with spirited campaigning.

She had reached out to people, spoke to them, challenged dynasty politics and asked why Rahul was missing at the constituency for 15 years. When Rahul sensed the turning tide, he decided to contest from Waynad when she accused him of “running”.

The stage for this victory was set in 2014 itself when BJP fielded Irani against Gandhi. Until then, few parties ever bothered to field their best candidates which includes regional parties like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP).

BJP refused to back down on this Congress stronghold which brought on this victory today. Last elections too, she managed to reduce Rahul’s margin who won only by a lakh votes.

The firebrand
Irani is a well-known face across the country, thanks to being a lead star in a soap opera which ran for over 15 years, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Every mother-in-law was once was a daughter-in-law)

She had played a soft spoken and hence an ideal wife in the hit TV series. But she blossomed to become one of the most outspoken of ministers in Modi’s cabinet which is not actually known for diplomatic people. She had come down on people in favour of Narendra Modi, the prime minister.

Her speeches ranged from angry to emotional to exasperation; taking her leader’s word to media channels across issues. She defended her government for charging Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students with sedition law, saying they have been engaged in “unlawful activities”.

She was moved by the suicide of a dalit student Rohith Vemula led to riots; and blamed the political forces; blaming people for “using his (Rohith’s) body as a political tool”.

Irani has in fact been called ‘Modi’s Sushma’ after she comfortably took up the mantle as veteran BJP politician Sushma Swaraj moved away from active politics. However, it is interesting to note that Irani who is mentored by late union telecom minister Pramod Mahajan never started as a Modi fan.

In fact, she had blamed Modi for BJP’s loss in 2004, and said that it is unethical of him to stay on in power after the Gujarat riots. Just like Modi, she made a comeback, and that too to a historic success.