Lok Sabha polls: In Amethi, Rahul Gandhi's adopted village may become his undoing as many rue neglect
When expectations are sky high, the fall is equally steep. When Amethi votes on 6 May, a large section of its residents will go to polling booths in a bad mood.
When Amethi votes on 6 May, a large section of its residents will go to the polling booths in a bad mood.
The primary grouse of Jagdishpur is that they never saw Rahul Gandhi after 2014, the year he adopted the village.
'Honestly, we got nothing out of becoming adarsh,' says Mahadevi, the pradhan of Jagdishpur.
Amethi has elected the Congress party in 13 out of 15 general elections.
This stellar record is due to the emotional connection that people here have with the Gandhis.
When Rahul Gandhi, the Lok Sabha Member of Parliament representing Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, adopted Jagdishpur village under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana in 2014, its residents were overjoyed. A hope was sparked in them that they would get the same amenities as other VIP villages in the state. In particular, they started comparing their own village with Saifai in Etawah district, the native village of Samajwadi Party chief and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Saifai village is the cynosure of all eyes in Jagdishpur because it has the reputation of hosting all kinds of modern amenities and institutions. The people of Jagdishpur concluded that Gandhi would personally oversee their transformation into a second Saifai. Even more than their village, Jagdishpur residents had felt that it was they who had been adopted by Rahul Gandhi. Unlike the Yadav clan, many of whose members live in and around Saifai, the Gandhis live in Delhi. In Jagdishpur, people thought that this distance would now be bridged, and they would receive regular visits from their MP and other Congress leaders.
But when expectations are sky high, the fall is equally steep. Five years have gone by and when Amethi votes on 6 May, a large section of its residents will go to the polling booths in a bad mood. Their primary grouse is that they never saw Rahul Gandhi after 2014, the year he adopted them. In his absence, they hanker for tap water, clean streets, pucca homes, a new school—all the things they feel an adarsh village should have got.
“Honestly, we got nothing out of becoming adarsh,” says Mahadevi, the pradhan of Jagdishpur, whose family has shifted loyalty to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of late. She points towards a water tank that has been built through Gandhi’s assistance but which has not yet been linked with people’s homes. A nearby cremation ground has also been built nearby through Gandhi’s intervention. “But even that project has not been completed,” she says.
The aspirations in Jagdishpur had soared in 2014 because it is located in Raebareli district, whose Member of Parliament is Sonia Gandhi, the former Congress president. The Congress has won 16 out of 19 Lok Sabha elections in Raebareli. Sonia is Rahul Gandhi’s mother, and he has won three elections from Amethi, which is adjacent to Raebareli. Amethi has elected the Congress party in 13 out of 15 general elections. This stellar record is due to the emotional connection that people here have with the Gandhis.
People here credit all the development in this region to the Congress’ kitty but complain that not much has changed since the nineties, when the Congress lost power in Uttar Pradesh. The Adarsh village scheme had brought the promise of development to Jagdishpur after three full decades. That is why its failure weighs heavily on them. “Our perception about Rahul Gandhi is that he has the status of a future prime minister,” says Vinod Kumar Singh, a construction supervisor in Jagdishpur. “But are we fools that we have been adopted to just be ignored? This time we will vote for change,” he says.
The change Singh is referring to is the high-pitched battle over the Amethi Lok Sabha seat being fought between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. The BJP had fielded textiles minister Smriti Irani from the seat in 2014, and she had squeezed the Congress’ margin significantly with her spirited and vocal campaign that turned on development. Now, she has been fielded for a second time and has been emphatic about Gandhi’s prolonged absences from the constituency.
The question Jagdishpur residents are asking as they head to vote is whether their sentimental attachment to the Gandhi family can override — once again — their desire for better homes, water supply, electricity and schools. Another change is visible in Jagdishpur, which is that the younger generation of voters, as even a local Congress leader admits, are moving away from dynastic politics. “My own son feels there is something wrong with it, although he supports the Congress,” he says.
When Irani and Gandhi are weighed against each other, the charge of dynastic succession tends to fall against the Gandhis. Then follow other questions, such as how many visits the two leaders make to Amethi, how much time they spend there, and how they plan to develop the region. To many Jagdishpur residents, the Adarsh village scheme has, therefore, come to represent all that the BJP (and therefore, Irani) wanted to give its people—a non-dynast, and development. On both these counts, many locals say, the Congress could not deliver.
“Now the election cannot be fought along emotional lines,” says Atul Pandey, a Jagdishpur resident, who is a student and a first-time voter. “Those who still support the Congress may feel they have a familial connection with the Gandhis, but not I. We young people think differently—we think about who can develop this area and the country better.”
The Adarsh village scheme is a brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had envisioned that a variety of government schemes would be implemented in one village of every Lok Sabha constituency. The idea was to prepare one model village by 2019, under the personal oversight of an MP. The presumption behind the scheme is that once all the public services that are supposed to be fully functional in a village are in place, it would serve as an ideal for the rest of the constituency it is located in.
“This scheme was launched by the central government, but it has no budget,” says Ashutosh Mishra, who is among the few vocal supporters of the Congress in Jagdishpur. “Rahulji adopted us because he thought it was a good scheme by the prime minister, similar to the Lohia and Ambedkar village schemes that the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party had launched. But without a budget, how can he do anything?,” he says.
Jitendra Mishra, another resident and Congress supporter, says Jagdishpur has not performed too badly in terms of development over the last five years. “Around 400 out of 998 families have got sanitation coverage and 216 are shortlisted for new pucca homes,” he says. Another 338 have got subsidised cylinders under the (central government’s) Ujjwala cooking gas scheme,” he says.
Yet, people who had expected their lives and immediate surroundings to be transformed by the Adarsh village scheme are not convinced. They argue that all existing government schemes should have been implemented better, and wish that Gandhi had been around to oversee the process. “If the budget was an issue, then he could have come and explained it to us,” one resident, Jitendra Prasad, says.
Israwati Yadav, a young woman in Jagdishpur, whose mud-and-stone home leaks every time it rains, has not been approved by the pradhan to get the central government subsidy to build a pucca home despite making repeated requests to the pradhan. Her husband sells snacks on a pushcart and she has three children and a sick mother-in-law. Because of her leaky house, she fears she will be unable to find a suitable match for her daughter. The one-time subsidy to build a brick-and-mortar home under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (housing scheme) would be a significant jump in her family’s quality of life. “But nobody cares for the poor,” Israwati says. “Had Rahul come at least once to the village then he could have asked the pradhan to work for us poor,” she says.
The battle lines in Jagdishpur are being drawn between the Congress’s traditional supporters, who also oppose the BJP’s policies, versus those who hanker for change. It is Irani who represents the latter. Irani’s campaign draws the Jagdishpur voter’s attention to the neglect of their own development. At the same time, her party’s supporters appear more inclined to focus on national issues. Prasad, a local taxi driver, says, “This time we will find the BJP candidate will get more votes in this village. The reason is not just the lack of development and the absence of Gandhi, but also the fact that the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has made India a better place to live.”
This electoral competition is further complicated by the fact that the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party have asked their voters to bat for the Congress and have not fielded their own candidates from this seat. “I am voting for Rahul bhaiya this time,” says 19-year-old Narendra Pratap, another first-time voter in Jagdishpur, who studies in Firoz Gandhi Inter College in Amethi. “He got us a hand pump and he got a water tank here. If the Adarsh scheme has no budget, what can he do?” he says. His mother Shivakumari says, “We are BSP voters and this time we have been asked to vote for the hand symbol of the Congress.” They disagree with the central government’s policy of giving ten percent reservations to the poor among elite castes and are also swayed by the Congress party’s promise of increasing the number of government jobs.
Unemployment is one of the worries amongst the poor of Jagdishpur but they are unsure which party’s government can resolve this problem. “We vote in every election but nothing changes,” says Bhagirathi, a farm labourer who makes roughly Rs 200 for eight hours of work in the nearby wheat fields. “Earlier I would get work for a month at a stretch but now, I only get ten-fifteen days of work. I want whichever government comes to resolve this problem, for I am really struggling,” says the 42-year-old.
“We need more factories here so that people can work, and the BJP has many proposals,” says Om Prakash, a resident. “In the last Assembly election, we voted for the BJP but after the election, the MLA and the village pradhan both ignored us,” he says.
Jagdishpur falls in the Salon Assembly seat of Amethi, which is said to be pivotal in determining who wins this Lok Sabha constituency. “In the Assembly, we feel we have to vote for the party which forms the government, because everyone wants development, which the Congress cannot deliver,” he says.
“Since I was born, I have been hearing that development is coming, but I feel that the Lok Sabha election has lost its relevance here in Amethi. What matters is the Assembly polls, though this time, we are a bit disappointed with the MLA,” says Rajani, a middle-aged homemaker.
Amethi has been the prime minister’s seat through the eighties and nineties. But former prime minister Manmohan Singh was an MP from Assam, and now, the Congress is not in power at the Centre or in the state. Therefore, its people feel they have fallen behind the times. Whether Irani strikes it lucky in Amethi or not, in Jagdishpur, her party is on an upsurge.
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