Given the history of Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency, it is not the result but the victory margin of the Nehru-Gandhi family member contesting that is eagerly awaited. Rahul Gandhi proudly describes it as the karmabhoomi of his family.

Campaigning for brother Rahul Gandhi, sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at every meeting recalls the 100-year-old association of her family with the area. “The Nehru-Gandhi connection with Rae Bareli has been a century old, starting from the time of Moti Lal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru. He had stood with the farmers’ during the 1921 Munshiganj farmers’ massacre, when British shot down many farmers. Nehru had first been arrested here for his support to the farmers,” recalls Priyanka.

Targeting Rahul Gandhi on his home turf, union minister Amit Shah questioned how a parliamentary constituency could belong to anyone in a democracy.

Giving a communal twist, Shah charged four-time Rae Bareli MP Sonia Gandhi of spending 70 per cent of her MP funds on minorities. When a journalist questioned him on his source, he maintained that the people of the area had given him this information. “Why doesn’t she deny it if this is wrong,” he counter-questioned.

Similarly, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath gave his address a divisive turn when he said: “Rahenge Hindustan mein, vote mange Rae Bareli mein, aur unko samarthan milna hai Pakistan se. Aap batao jiska samarthan Pakistan karega uska aap samarthan karenge kya? (He (Rahul) lives in India, asks for vote in Rae Bareli and is supported by Pakistan. Tell me, would you support someone supported by Pakistan?)”

Also read: I give you my son; he will not disappoint you, Sonia Gandhi to Rae Bareli public

The Congress decision to field Rahul Gandhi from Rae Bareli clearly took the BJP by surprise. Blinking first, the saffron party had announced its candidate just hours before Rahul Gandhi’s name was declared. BJP’s Dinesh Pratap Singh, a former Congress MLC, joined BJP on the eve of the 2019 election and was defeated by Sonia Gandhi by a margin of 1,67,178 votes.

As the campaign gathers heat, the BJP is clearly nervous about the people taking up cudgels on behalf of Congress. “Rahul bhaiya apna kaam karein. Rae Bareli ki chinta na karein. Yahan unki jeet nishchit (Rahul bhaiya should focus on his work and not worry about Rae Bareli. His victory here is a certainty),” said Kanti Devi of Harchandpur, who had come to attend Priyanka’s meeting. women sitting around her nod their heads in agreement. Priyanka’s meetings are interactive, where she talks about people’s problems: unemployment, rising prices, stray cattle, farmers distress, leaked question papers and so on.

It is evidently such overwhelming backing of people across age, caste and religion that has forced the BJP to make its campaign pitch more shrill, speaking of Sonia Gandhi’s MP funds supporting minorities and Rahul Gandhi getting support from Pakistan.

BJP has more reasons to worry. Of the five assembly constituencies of Rae Bareli, four are with the Samajwadi Party, while Aditi Singh is the lone BJP MLA representing Rae Bareli.

Giving a body blow to the BJP campaign, she has kept away from canvassing. A Rajput face and daughter of seven-time Rae Bareli MLA late Akhilesh Singh, Aditi is upset with the BJP’s choice of candidate. In 2019, then-Congress MLA Aditi had charged the BJP candidate’s brother of attacking her car. Now both are in the same party but the enmity continues. Recently, Aditi took to social media to declare: “No compromise with principles,” creating further unease in BJP circles.

The BJP’s increasing desperation was visible when Home Minister Amit Shah visited the house of rebel Samajwadi MLA from Unchhar, Manoj Pandey, requesting him to throw his weight behind the BJP candidate. Pandey, the chief whip of the Samajwadi party, had cross-voted in favour of the BJP during the February 27 Rajya Sabha polls. He was expecting to be the BJP candidate and has stayed away from campaigning. Shah made him promise to campaign but Pandey is unwilling to do so for his long-time rival.