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Amethi murmurs against son…
… but AIIMS goodwill for Sonia

Construction of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences in full swing in Rae Bareli; (above) a crane at the site of an under-construction Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology in Amethi. Pictures by JP Yadav

Amethi/Rae Bareli, Jan. 14: When it comes to goodwill, the mother it seems is better off than the son.

On the outskirts of Munsiganj in Rae Bareli, Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency, an army of labourers appeared to be racing against time. Coming up on the spot is an All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Some 25km ahead, on the potholed and dusty national highway connecting Rae Bareli and Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha seat, another set of workers laboured on an under-construction Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology (RGIPT).

The long neck of a crane stretched out against the sky as the men went about their work.

So all’s well in the Gandhi pocket borough? Not quite.

Villagers in minority-dominated Mukhatia, near the site, are up in arms over reports that there were plans to acquire more land. “We will not give our land. In the name of development, Rahul Gandhi is robbing us of our livelihood,” said Ghulam Gaus, warning that villagers would campaign against the Congress vice-president in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

In Rae Bareli, however, retired government servant Satish Kumar Pandey said it “would have been better” had the medical institute come up earlier. “The pace of construction shows elections are round the corner. But it (AIIMS) will be of great help to the people.”

Not that the goodwill for Sonia stretched across Rae Bareli but it did appear that the mother was better placed than the son, more so after Sunday’s Aam Aadmi Party rally. Most residents said the condition of roads in Rae Bareli was better than in Amethi.

Across the “VIP constituency”, people voiced their grievances.

Haan, ye VIP constituency hai…. Dekh nahi rahe kitna VIP road hai (Yes, this is a VIP constituency…. Can’t you see how VIP is the road)?” said Dilip Tiwari, a youth from Nigoha, in Amethi, asked whether the village was part of Rahul’s constituency.

He was referring to the condition of the national highway.

Rahul’s managers in the Uttar Pradesh constituency acknowledged that the condition of the highway was generating anger but blamed it on the “non-cooperative” state government, led by the Samajwadi Party, and the “alluvial soil” in the region.

“Should Rahul Gandhi be held responsible for all the things going wrong? He ensures that the Centre allots funds but the execution is in the hands of the state government. What can he do if the state government does not cooperate?” said Alhaj Md Rafiq Warsi, also known as Allu Mia, a Gandhi family loyalist since the days of Rajiv Gandhi.

The residents are not ready to accept excuses. Not only were the roads bad, they said, other facilities, too, did not match up to Rahul’s stature. “We get electricity for only seven-eight hours. Rahulji says, ‘What can I do if the state government does not give electricity?’ If he cannot do anything, what is the use of such a big leader,” said Junaid Akhtar, of Jayas, Amethi.

Asked about the anger of the villagers in Mukhatia over the reported proposal to take over more land for the petroleum technology institute, Rahul’s representative Chandrakant Dubey denied any such plans. He said the plan was to construct a high-rise so that more land was not needed.

“The villagers, it seems, are being misled. Though land acquisition is done by the state government, we know that there is no proposal for more land,” he said.

Congress managers seemed aware that the AAP’s entry in Amethi could ignite the discontent and are going all out to address the grievances ahead of the summer elections.

In the last Assembly elections, the Congress had lost eight of the 10 segments that fall in Amethi and Rae Bareli.

In the 2009 elections, Rahul had strolled to victory in Amethi. The Samajwadi Party had not put up any candidate while the BJP and the BSP fielded low-profile contenders. This time, things could be different, given the AAP’s sudden surge.

Dubey said Rahul had done a lot for Amethi that was not being highlighted and added that the leader’s model for the region’s development was that of a “mixed economy”. “Only industries will not solve the problem. It is to be a mixed model with due stress on agriculture and dairy development,” Dubey said.

In line with this “vision”, Rahul recently laid the foundation stone for a mega food processing plant in Jagdishpur. It has been touted as a life-changer project that would fetch farmers good price for their products and provide employment to a large number of youths.

Jagdishpur resident Nandan Singh wasn’t convinced. “Aisa bahut high-fi project ka shilanyas Rahulji ne kia hai. Lekin kab banega kaun jaanta hai (Rahul has laid the foundation stone for many such projects. But who knows when they will come up)?” he said.

Many such big-ticket projects with long gestation periods are yet to be completed. The Congress is now banking on the food security scheme and wall writings — across Amethi and Rae Bareli — tell people how the Gandhi family has ensured that no one goes hungry.

The scheme is yet to generate goodwill for the family.

Allu Mia, the Gandhi family loyalist, said it was not possible even for a father to satisfy all his children but added that the roots of the Nehru-Gandhi family were so deep in the region that people would vote for both Sonia and Rahul despite their grievances.

“If people keep their hand on their hearts and remember what the family has done for the region,” he said, “they cannot but vote for Rahulji and Soniaji.”