BJP and Cong in political tug of war over Covid-19 relief in Amethi, Rae Bareli
- While the BJP is aiming to build on its relatively recent electoral gains, the Congress is desperate to reclaim lost ground.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are engaged in an outreach campaign Amethi and Rae Bareli, two politically important constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, with the two parties appearing keen to be seen as the primary caretakers and providers of help amid the pandemic.
While the BJP is aiming to build on its relatively recent electoral gains, the Congress is desperate to reclaim lost ground.
The Uttar Pradesh assembly elections are due early next year and experts believe these polls could have an impact on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress’ first family, the Gandhis, have been representing the two constituencies for decades. Despite its surprise loss from Amethi in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party retains Rae Bareli, which the BJP has now set its sights on. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi lost the Amethi Lok Sabha seat to Union minister Smriti Irani in 2019. It was only the third time when the party lost its citadel.
The Congress has now targeted Irani, claiming she had been missing throughout the pandemic when Amethi needed her the most.
The BJP hit back, saying Irani was active as well as connected with the people, helping them through Covid helplines, ration kits and hospitalisation.
The Yogi Adityanath government in the state has already sanctioned a Covid testing laboratory in Amethi, which officials said would also help people of the adjoining regions of Rae Bareli, Sultanpur and Pratapgarh – territories once dominated by the Congress.
Early in May, Smriti rushed to Amethi after BJP MLA Dal Bahadur Kori from Salon died of post-Covid complications. Salon is an assembly segment under Amethi Lok Sabha, parts of which are also spread into Rae Bareli, the only surviving Congress bastion in the state.
“She reviews the Covid situation in her constituency almost daily. A Covid response WhatsApp group has been set up with Irani, her representative Vijay Gupta, the district BJP chief and two members from each Vidhan Sabha (constituency), also in there,” a BJP leader said.
Assembly-constituency wise helpline numbers, too, were issued, party leaders said.
“With just about nine months to go for 2022 UP assembly polls, the exercise is significant for both the BJP and the Congress. The Congress, having lost eight of the 10 assembly seats that make up Amethi and Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituencies, - and since then has seen remaining two MLAs veer towards BJP - is now desperate to reclaim lost political space in territories that were regarded as its family bastions, but the BJP wouldn’t want to give in so easily either,” said professor Manuka Khanna, Lucknow University.
Despite the BJP capturing political space, Congress has been active too with party leaders distributing ration kits, running ambulance services and arranging for sanitisation.
Congress leaders said the Gandhis had a familial bond with these constituencies, one that was above victory or defeat.
“There are specific instructions from Rahul Gandhiji to ensure help for all of Amethi. He has been regularly sending oxygen concentrators and cylinders for Amethi and now efforts are underway to ensure sanitisation of all houses for which 10,000 litres of hypochlorite solution would soon be made available,” Congress district unit chief Pradeep Singhal said. The party has also sent face covers to be distributed among people in Amethi.
Both parties are putting in a similar effort in Rae Bareli, where the BJP had fielded Congress MLC Dinesh Pratap Singh against party chief Sonia Gandhi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Sonia Gandhi had convincingly defeated her former party man, but the win in Amethi has made BJP ambitious, party leaders admit.
Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma, who visited Rae Bareli earlier this week, had said oxygen plants would be functional soon in the district.
“We are taking complete care of people, from oxygen to availability of hospital beds, medicines, ration kits,” Sharma said. Congress claims the party leadership has been silently helping the people.
“On being told that poor people were burying their dead by the riverside rather than cremating them, Soniaji sent three truckloads of wood for all three cremation grounds of Rae Bareli. She also provided ₹1.17 crore from the MLPAD fund to help better health infrastructure,” a Congress leader said.