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The Rediff Special / George Iype in Amethi and Rae Bareli

April 21, 2004

The Gandhi bastion in Uttar Pradesh is like the Congress.

For years, the Gandhi family nurtured Amethi and Rae Bareli.

Just like the Congress.

But today the country's two high profile constituencies from where Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi are contesting are a picture of neglect.

Being out of power for the past eight years has taken a toll on the Congress; its treasury is virtually empty and its many political strategies have faltered often.

The Congress without power has taken a toll on Rae Bareli and Amethi as well. Ever since the party lost power in 1996, most development projects in the Gandhi stronghold came to a grinding halt.

People in Amethi say since former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's death, the Congress has not cared much about Amethi.

So the rural roads that Rajiv once built are all potholed; there is no electricity in many areas; most industries that flourished in the Rajiv era have either shut down or packed up from Amethi and Rae Bareli.

Poverty is rampant and not many people can read or write. In a bid to understand the plight of his constituents, Rahul -- who is contesting his first election -- started a rapid reading development programme in Amethi for eight to 14 year olds two months ago.

"Only Rahul can save us. He is our Rajiv Gandhi now," says local trader Ravinder Nath, who makes iron rods for steel companies. "Earlier, we used to have steel companies in Amethi. But most of them have shut down. I supply for companies in Delhi these days," he says.

After Rajiv's death, industrial activity died in Amethi. The Sriram Group, which set up a huge steel plant, has shifted out. Cement factories have closed down. Scores of motor spare parts units, which had sprung up after the Maruti revolution brought in by Rajiv Gandhi, also packed up years ago.

Spare parts shop owner Rajindra Kumar wonders why Sonia, who won the 1999 election from Amethi, did not do much to bring back prosperity to the village. "She has been a very caring leader for us, but things have not picked up here after Rajiv Gandhi," Kumar says.

"A rural area like Amethi cannot come up without political support. We lost it when the Congress lost power," Kumar adds.

But Kumar insists that Amethi still continues to be "a highly developed constituency" compared to other Uttar Pradesh villages. "In most UP villages, there is no water, electricity and roads. We still continue to have a little bit of these facilities."

Rae Bareli and Amethi are interlocked, geographically. That could be why mother Sonia decided to field son Rahul from Amethi while she took Rae Bareli.

Rae Bareli was one the most high profile constituencies because it was "developed" by former prime minister Indira Gandhi. It was perhaps the first town in UP that saw development decades ago after she set up the Indian Telephone Industries, the first such company outside Bangalore.

It employed 12,000 people. But even ITI has fallen on bad times. Over the years, it has laid off nearly 6,000 employees.

Those days, Rae Bareli was the finest example of a village with electricity. Now, there is a daily 10-hour power cut. After most of the industries moved out, electricity became the first casualty. Roads once tarred are all patched now; and water taps run dry in most villages.

Local Congress leader Deepak Singh says the entrepreneurs who set up industries "made money" and moved out.

"In fact, many industrialists have made money from Rae Bareli and Amethi and moved to other good locations in the country. That is the reason for the bad state of affairs in this area," Singh says.

He says dozens of industrial units set up in the 1970s and 1980s have shut down in Rae Bareli and Amethi. The end result of it all is that most people in the Gandhi bastion are unemployed, which could be one reason why thousands of people turn up to listen to Rahul on any day.

But despite their current plight, the people of Amethi and Rae Bareli are not complaining; they are instead excited.

"We are overjoyed that Rahul is here. He is our saviour," says PCO owner Lal Chand. For villagers like Chand, Rahul is here to complete the unfinished work of Rajiv.

The villagers are also waiting to witness history being repeated in Rae Bareli and Amethi. In 1980, Indira and son Sanjay won the Lok Sabha polls from Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively.

The villagers are now all set to take Sonia and Rahul to victory.

Image: Uday Kuckian

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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: For Whom the Bell Tolls!

It is erroneous to say that only if you are in power, you can develop your constituency. Congress was in power for nearly 50 years ...

Posted by Ramesh Kapoor

Sub: The Gandhi bastion in Uttar Pradesh

What would be the fate of India if people of every constituency expects some blue eyed politician would contest from there & they would prosper? ...

Posted by K.T. Kumar


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