- Rahul Gandhi held an hour-long meeting with Congress workers
- "I will never leave Amethi," he told workers
- Amethi defeat became symbol of Congress's devastation in national polls
Rahul Gandhi returned to his home base Amethi in Uttar Pradesh today for the first time since his shock defeat to the BJP's Smriti Irani from a constituency that had elected him since 2004. "My relationship with Amethi is personal. I will never leave Amethi," the Congress leader told workers.
"Don't think that I don't belong to you. I will keep visiting. Have to devote time to Wayanad too, but I'd devote time to you as well. I was Amethi MP for 15 years, I have old ties with Amethi, bonds of love. I'm there whenever you need me. Be it at night or 4 in the morning, I'd be there whenever you need me," Mr Gandhi said.
The defeat in Amethi, a largely rural constituency that has always been loyal to the Nehru-Gandhi family, became the symbol of the Congress's devastation in the recent national election. Rahul Gandhi, who made it to parliament only because he won from his second constituency, Wayanad in Kerala, resigned as Congress president and advised his party to look for a non-Gandhi chief.
Today, Rahul Gandhi held an hour-long meeting with Congress workers at Gauriganj, Amethi's district headquarters, and visited a worker whose relative had died on June 25.
Mobile phone videos shared by some who attended the workers' meet showed Mr Gandhi promising not to abandon his three-time Lok Sabha seat. "I may be the MP of Wayanad but I will keep coming here. Please do not think I will not come here. I will keep on coming," said the Congress leader to 300-odd party workers.
अमेठी आकर बहुत खुश हूँ। अमेठी आना घर आने जैसा लगता है। pic.twitter.com/B6YW2f7aLg— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 10, 2019
The 49-year-old has been accused by the BJP of neglecting Amethi and not visiting his constituency enough. His visit today, the first since he took out a roadshow on the day he filed his nomination papers, was compared by many to Smriti Irani's visit after her defeat in Amethi in 2014.
More than 15,000 people turned up for the workers' meeting for which only 1,200 were invited, reported news agency IANS. Mr Gandhi asked party men to be ready for a long battle to resurrect the Congress, saying he would stand by them.
He tweeted "I am very happy to be here in Amethi. Coming to Amethi feels like coming home."
68-year-old Ganga Prasad, a former gram pradhan or rural body official, braved the heavy rain in Amethi today just to meet Mr Gandhi. He told Mr Gandhi the only way to rebuild the party in Amethi was to connect with the grassroots workers.
"They have to start listening to the workers on the ground and the poor. Those who are indulging in netagiri ... they should be cast aside," said Ganga Prasad.
But rebuilding the party in Amethi will be challenging. 61-year-old farmer Bhagwan Singh says he was a Congress worker for decades but grew disillusioned by the inaccessibility of its big leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, and switched to the BJP.
"Smriti Irani was always accessible. Even when she lost, she used to come here regularly. Even after she won the election, she has come here three times," Mr Singh said.
Some of this alleged inaccessibility was on display today, when at least 50 Congress workers, some of them veterans in Amethi, were not allowed to enter the meeting venue by Mr Gandhi's security because they were 'late'. The workers tried reasoning with them saying that it was raining heavily, but weren't allowed in.
In a historic election battle, BJP's Smriti Irani defeated Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, which for decades had been voting for the Congress and Mr Gandhi's family. Ms Irani won by a margin of over 55,000 votes in the constituency that had been voting Mr Gandhi since 2004.