As a member of the 14th Lok Sabha, Jitin Prasada visited his constituency, Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, almost every week in the last five years except when he was out of the country. Those frequent visits helped him bond with his voters and ensure they stayed loyal.
This time, the 35-year-old Congress leader is contesting elections to Parliament from nearby Dhaurhara after Shahjahanpur, his home turf, was designated a reserved constituency following the 2007 delimitation exercise that redrew the boundaries of constituencies across India.
Like in the past, he knows only bonding with the voters will help—both Shahjahanpur and Dhaurhara fall in a region dominated by rival parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
"I work in a hostile atmosphere and my voters are the only strength I have," says Prasada, who became a minister of state last year in the ministry of steel. "Unlike Lok Sabha members from the states where the Congress party is strong or where the party is in power, I cannot afford to be away from (my) constituency for long."
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For more than two decades now, India’s Grand Old Party has fared poorly in Uttar Pradesh—both in state assembly and parliamentary elections. Uttar Pradesh elects 80 members to the Lok Sabha, the highest from a single state.
"But I learnt that touring through villages and bonding with the villagers would compensate for the hostilities. Nothing can beat them," says Prasada, son of the late Congress veteran Jitendra Prasada, in a phone interview from Dhaurhara.
He spoke in between making last-minute arrangements for a campaign rally, enquiring from party associates about the minutest details.
"Today is very busy day," he says. "(Congress general secretary) Rahul Gandhi is coming to address the rally here," he says.
Dhaurhara will go to polls on 13 May.
Prasada knows that this election is difficult. His main rival in the newly formed constituency is the BSP veteran and senior Lok Sabha member Rajesh Verma. "In Shahjahanpur, there was not much of a political fight. It was my family constituency and I knew all the voters and their problems and needs," he said. His father had represented Shahjahanpur for four terms in the Lok Sabha.
He said the Congress party also had to face "pressuring tactics", which includes intimidation of the party cadre by the BSP, which is in power in Uttar Pradesh, and the local police.
However, he hopes to tide over the challenge in Dhaurhara. "Although there has been use of force by the police in some key areas, I realized that the people’s support and cooperation would make them futile," he said. "I am seeing lot of people are returning to the Congress fold."
Prasada was instrumental in getting the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, to back the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the crucial 22 July trust vote in Parliament after Left parties withdrew their support to the ruling coalition over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.
But Prasada can’t bank on SP’s support any longer.
The SP, which had earlier decided against fielding a candidate in Dhaurhara, later announced Om Prakash Gupta as its nominee, indicating a split in the Muslim-Yadav votes in the constituency. "It is bad for me," Prasada was candid. " It is eating into the secular votes and weakening the fight against communal forces and casteist parties such as the BSP."
Prasada conceded that caste and religion have always played a major role in elections in the state. "But my election plank is development."
He also shares Gandhi’s hope that the Congress, which decided to go it alone after trying unsuccessfully to forge an electoral pact with the SP, will do better in the state this time. Prasada is a close confidant of Gandhi.
Before he turned a rebel and contested against Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi in the organizational election for the post of Congress president, Prasada’s father had enjoyed the trust of party luminaries such as Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, both former prime ministers.
Like his party colleagues Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Priya Dutt, Prasada entered politics after the death of his father.
Prasada is associated with SRIJAN Jitendra Prasada Foundation, a social organization that works for the cause of women, youth, farmers and the underprivileged.
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