Battle ground Amethi
A stretch of potholes on the 60km road connecting Amethi and Rae Bareli, the twin VIP Lok Sabha constituencies in Central UP, speaks volumes about the region that many believe should have been the country’s model constituency.
But the two constituencies of the Gandhis, the Congress first family, for about four decades, are similar to other undeveloped rural areas of Uttar Pradesh. Incidentally, Indira Gandhi first contested from Rae Bareli in 1967, 16 years after Feroze Gandhi was elected from here and Sanjay Gandhi fought his maiden election from Amethi in 1977.
People are no more content with the VIP status they enjoyed over the years. They displayed their anger by defeating the Congress in three of the five assembly seats in the 2012 elections.
But their emotional connect with the family is clear. Graffiti on a desolate building near Gauriganj says much: Kabhi na bhulo bhaiya, rajiv ji ka ehsan, puri duniya main amethi ki pehchan (We will never forget Rajiv Gandhi’s contribution; He gave Amethi a distinct identity in the world).
Thus, when Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Kumar Vishwas says a sum of more than Rs. 55,000 crore spent on development projects here has made no visible difference, a debate starts over Amethi’s VIP status and the lack of development in the region.
“True, we have a distinct identity. But we also have our needs. The constituency’s status has not helped us and our children. Our land was taken away for the construction of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology but none of our boys was given a job. Only outsiders are getting admission to this institute,” said Yaar Mohammad the village pradhan of Mubarakpur village.
Other projects set up or being set up in Amethi include the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) training centre, a gun factory and the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) plant. A Mega Food Park is also being set up in Jagdishpur.
“Compared to Saifai, the native village of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi as MP has not been able to do anything. He does not meet the people; he only waves to them and leaves thereafter whenever he is here,” said Mukesh Bansal, a trader from Gauriganj, the district headquarters of Amethi. “Yet, driven by their sentiments, people vote for him,” he added.
About Kumar Vishwas, he said most of those accompanying the Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader were outsiders. “Rahul Gandhi’s margin of victory may go up if the Kumar Vishwas factor leads to a consolidation of votes in his favour,” said Bansal.
“The Samajwadi Party has not announced any candidate against Rahul. So the local workers who worked for the SP candidate in assembly polls will tacitly work for Rahul,” he said.
Rahul’s representative Chandrakant Dubey believes the numerous complaints are actually an expression of the love and affection of the local people. “Many of them even meet Soniaji to lodge their complaints if Rahul Gandhi misses a function or a visit to their homes to greet or pay condolences,” he said.
Besides bringing various development projects, a strong network of Self Help Groups (SHGs) has also been set up in Amethi. “We have at least one SHG in most of the 1200 villages. At least 10 members are associated with every SHG. This makes a network of 10,000 people,” said a local Congress leader. Rahul has paid more than 150 visits to Amethi in the last 10 years and many have focused on the functioning of the SHGs. “With various development projects additional job avenues will be created. This makes the bond between the local people with Rahul stronger,” he said.
Rahul has referred to this bond every time he has addressed the people often striking an emotional chord: “I used to come here as a 12-year-old kid. My father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, used to speak to the people at similar functions. I used to watch from the sidelines. In 1991, my father died and stopped guiding me. Now the people of Amethi lead my way.”
Will they lead his way this time too?