“You are entitled to your own opinion,
but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
Amethi, one of the most hotly contested constituencies in India, was untethered from reality long back. Today, Amethi is just about the incessant questions posed by the ruling government on the district’s development and the media’s obsession with the Gandhi’s bastion. To add to it, ever since cabinet minister Smriti Irani has aspired to convert Rahul Gandhi’s pocket borough of Amethi into her political pedestal – the general public is being naively led up the garden path – constantly looking at a picture that’s different from Amethi’s reality.
But, Smriti’s obsession with Amethi is understandable. Even though she was a rank outsider in Amethi and was unable to defeat Rahul Gandhi at the peak of Modi wave in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, she still managed to reduce Rahul’s victory margin from over 3.70 lakh in 2009 to merely 1.07 lakh in 2014. And from then on, she has made several trips to Amethi to fish for compliments from the locals.
With the announcement of initiatives like distributing one cow each to over 10,000 families in the district and introducing a pickle brand ‘Amethi’ made by the local women, her efforts are making quite a buzz in the Amethi political scene. And why not? After all, her entire career is dependent on Amethi. In fact, it was only after she reduced Rahul Gandhi’s winning margin by 80 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha election that she was rewarded by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and appointed as the Minister of Human Resource Development in his cabinet on 26 May 2014.
In the course of last four years, Rahul Gandhi has constantly been grilled about the development work he has done in Amethi as the constituency’s MP. And the derisions and rants that he gets as greetings don’t just come from BJP leaders like Amit Shah and Smriti Irani, but also from Indian media.
Fanning the flames, some even compare Amethi with Gujarat – a comparison that’s absolutely unfair. Narendra Modi took charge of Gujarat when it was an already prospering and thriving region. Whereas, Rahul Gandhi got an Amethi which happens to be one of the most backward districts of one of the poorest states of India. With over 50% of its population living below poverty line, Amethi has largely remained necessitous due to the remarkable ineptitude displayed by the past few state governments that ruled Uttar Pradesh and still failed to develop it. Nonetheless, Amethi continues to be starkly juxtaposed with Gujarat, time and again.
For that reason, it occurred to me that in the interest of Amethi, the great gap that exists between Amethi’s reality and the information propagated by the BJP should be bridged. And so, I decided to research about the region and gather information about its “real” development or the “lack of it” for that matter.
Not belonging to either Amethi or Uttar Pradesh, I chose to explore the reality of the much talked about Indian constituency. And, I am glad I did that.
The Truth behind Amethi’s development
From Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi, all have represented this constituency at one time or the other.
Even though the Nehru-Gandhi family has held this seat in Lok Sabha many times and has been holding it since 1980, what’s important to remember is that the Amethi constituency was created in 1967 and it became the 72nd district of Uttar Pradesh on 1st July 2010 only.
So, those who hold the Nehru-Gandhi family accountable for the poor development of Amethi in the past 70 years, must fact-check their sources before disseminating misleading information.
What’s more important to note here is that Amethi elected a Non-Nehru dynasty Congress person for two terms (Vidya Dhar Bajpai 1967-77) and a non-congress MP once (Ravindra Pratap Singh, Janata Party, 1977–80). Therefore, seeking answers from Rahul Gandhi for a track record of seven decades, when the family shares a roughly four-decade-long association with the constituency is fallacious at the very outset.
Yes, I agree that Congress was at the centre from 2004-2014 and a lot of development could have materialised in these ten years for as long as Rahul Gandhi has been the MP here. But then the neglect of the previous state governments of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party to develop the region or assist the lower house of Parliament is easily ignored by the Congress criticizers. It should be remembered that the Indian Constitution works on a federal structure where legislative, administrative and executive powers rest between the Central government and the States government. In fact, the state legislature has the power to make laws related to healthcare, transport, law and order, land policies, electricity, village administration, etc.
Therefore, inveighing against nobody else but Rahul Gandhi for the insufficient development of Amethi is an act of blatant political partisanship. As an MP of the district, Rahul Gandhi exerted himself to improve the region and uplift its people.
According to the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), every MP gets an allocation of ₹5 crore per year to develop the district. Rahul not just used these allocated funds to develop Amethi but did much beyond that due to the non-cooperation and hostility of the state governments to support his development initiatives.
One should not overlook the fact that the non-profit institution Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust run by the Gandhi family was established to work for the development needs of specifically the rural poor. Working in close collaboration with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, RGCT currently works in Uttar Pradesh’s poorest regions and also in Haryana.
Amethi has achieved substantial help through the Trust’s activities, particularly in the areas of women empowerment and eye care.
After understanding the magnitude of the work done by this Trust, I became all the more curious as to why the general public does not know much about it. And my interaction with a couple of people associated with the trust made me realise that the Gandhi family doesn’t like to publicise the work done under the trust. It is purely done with charitable intent, and the family doesn’t mix politics with charity.
Perhaps, that’s the reason why not many people know about the “reality” of Amethi!
Amethi during Rajiv Gandhi’s era
The journey of Amethi started from 1981 when Rajiv Gandhi won a by-election in the constituency after the tragic death of his younger brother and the constituency’s previous MP, Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash.
A once barren and parched land, Amethi transformed beyond recognition during Rajiv Gandhi’s era.
From linking each revenue village by a pucca road to installing water pumps and providing electricity connections, Amethi’s development work underwent a sea change under Rajiv Gandhi’s administration. Generations of people living in Amethi still recall Rajiv Gandhi for his contribution in building a network of irrigation canals in the area, giving the much-needed boost to agriculture. Many still thank him for this step that converted vast stretches of saline soil into agriculturally rich regions.
Not only this, but Rajiv Gandhi is also remembered for bringing the Aditya Birla Group’s Indo Gulf Fertilisers plant in Jagdishpur segment of Amethi. Some of the other key developments that occurred under the direction of Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi include the establishment of:
- Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL)
Rajiv Gandhi’s efforts to make Amethi a prosperous constituency and a benchmark for the rest of the UP are substantiated by the foundation of the Avionics Division of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. This division undertakes the production of Display Attack Ranging and Inertial Navigation system for Jaguar International aircraft for Indian Air Force. It also manufactures and supplies avionic systems for Russian origin MiG-27 & Su-30MKI aircraft. With a skilled workforce of over 1100 people, the HAL is rightly hailed as the “Pride of Amethi”.
- Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL)
To give a spur to industrialisation in Amethi, Rajiv Gandhi also brought Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited – an integrated power plant equipment manufacturer – in 1983 in the constituency’s Jagdishpur region.
- Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA)
Another key milestone in Amethi’s development is the setting up of the IGRUA in 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi. Located at Fursatganj Airfield in Amethi, this pilot training institute was the first such institute at the time of its establishment. Presently, it trains over 150 students every year and has become a trusted choice for the selection of pilots by the leading airlines of the country.
Amethi during Rahul Gandhi’s era
Walking in the footsteps of his father and striving to keep his legacy alive, Rahul Gandhi took several initiatives to develop Amethi during his tenure as the constituency’s MP. Some of the key development works undertaken by the Congress party over the past couple of decades include:
- BHEL Extension
The BHEL plant established in 1983 was extended during 2009-10 at the cost of INR 367 crore. With an annual capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes (MT), the plant provides direct employment to over 1500 people, together with several contract-based jobs.
- Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL)
SAIL acquired the defunct Malvika Steel in 2009 at INR 510 crore. While three units were added at the cost of INR 100 crore including TMT Bar Mill, Galvanized Sheet Corrugation Unit, and Crash Barrier Manufacturing Unit, it is estimated to employ over 700 people
- Ordnance Factory, Korwa
Manufacturing carbines and other defence equipment, this factory was started in 2007 at the cost of INR 408 crore and has given employment opportunities to over 500 people
- Rail Neer Plant
Established in 2014 at the cost of INR 8 crore, this plant has the capacity to produce 72,000 bottles of Rail Neer per day, giving earning potential to around 100 people.
- Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital and Research Centre (IGEHRC)
With the objective to provide state-of-the-art and affordable ophthalmologic care and to eliminate curable blindness in Northern India, the IGEHRC began its operations in Munshiganj, Amethi, in December 2005. Spanning across an area of around 30,000 square feet, the hospital has two wards with 158-beds, where 75 beds are reserved for subsidised/poor patients. The hospital is providing access to quality eye care to over 23 million people belonging to six rural districts of Uttar Pradesh – Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Raebareli, Faizabad, Jaunpur, and Barabanki.
Founded under the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT), IGEHRC Amethi has successfully organised over 1000 camps in rural areas and performed more than 100,000 cataract surgeries, out of which two-thirds were performed at subsidized rates. Also, the hospital has conducted over 350,000 free/subsidized checkups since its inception.
- Tiloi Hospital
A 200-bed hospital was sanctioned by the UPA government in January 2014 under the National Health Mission, wherein a fund of INR 10 crore was provided to the state government by the centre. The hospital is a crucial step towards delivering quality health care to the people of Amethi, having a strong focus on women and children.
- Rajiv Gandhi Computer Shiksha Kendra (RGCSK)
Sensing the gap between computer education and the youth of Amethi, the Congress party set up several Computer Shiksha Kendra in the constituency. Currently, six Information Technology centers are functional at Jagdishpur, Salon, Musafirkhana, Jais, Gauriganj and Rae Bareli, providing courses for durations of 3 months, 6 months and 1 year.
- Indira Gandhi School and College of Nursing (IGSCON)
Established in 2007, the IGSCON offers three courses: General Nursing & Midwifery (G.N.M),
Auxiliary Nursing & Midwives (A.N.M) and B.Sc. (Nursing), producing skilled graduates that are recruited by some of the highly reputed hospitals of India.
- Indira Gandhi Institute of Paramedical Sciences (IGIPS)
Started in 2012, the IGIPS is another Congress initiative to provide health education to rural students through diploma courses in OT Technician, Physiotherapy, Optometry and Dialysis Technician.
- Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI)
Set-up at Fursatganj in 2008, the FDDI runs postgraduate and graduate programmes with a training capacity of 500 students per year. The training centre also provides skill development programmes with a capacity to train 1000 students every year.
- Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology (RGIPT)
Started in 2008 at Jais with a cost of INR 450 crore, the RGIPT is spread over a sprawling campus of 48 acres. Addressed as an “Institute of National Importance”, it offers a number of Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree programs, PG diploma courses and Doctoral programs in Petroleum Technology and Management in phases. In 2008-2009, the Institute started an MBA program and two Technical programs as well
- CRPF Recruit Training Centre
Inaugurated by Rahul Gandhi in July 2013 at Trishundi, Amethi, the centre was established at the cost of INR 320 crore. It spreads over 200 acres of land and can train 1,500 recruits
- Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Information Technology (RGIIT)
An extension campus of IIIT Allahabad, which was started in 2005 at Amethi’s Tikarmafi at the cost of INR 80 crore, the RGIIT was shut down by the Modi government in 2016. After the shutdown, the 148 students of the IIIT Amethi campus were shifted to the Allahabad campus.
- Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University (RGNAU)
India’s first aviation university, the RGNAU was created by an Act of Parliament in September 2013. Located in the Fursatganj Airfield of the Amethi district, the university aims to facilitate and promote aviation studies, training, research and extension work in the country
- Central Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition Sanctioned in 2013 at the cost of INR 47.86 crore at Jagdishpur, this Institute is an initiative to develop skilled human resource for the country’s hospitality and tourism industry.
- Sainik School
This residential school was sanctioned in 2014 for conducting classes from 6th to 12th standard, having a capacity for 500 students. With its chosen location of Kohra-Shahgarh, the school aims at recruitment in Army directly at the officer level.
- Linking Amethi to the other regions of the country, six national highways have been constructed in the constituency over the past two decades.
- Two new trains were launched in 2013
o MEMU Sultanpur-Lucknow, via Amethi and Rae Bareli – A 12 coach train, with a capacity to carry 2,400 passengers was inaugurated by Rahul Gandhi on November 26, 2013
o DEMU Pratapgarh-Lucknow, via Amethi and Rae Bareli – Another train inaugurated by Rahul Gandhi on November 26, 2013
- New Railway lines sanctioned since 2010
o Amethi-Unchahar – A 66 km long railway line was sanctioned in 2012-13 at the cost of INR 380 crore
o Doubling of Rae Bareli- Amethi – A 60 km long railway line was sanctioned in 2013-14 at the cost of INR 285 crore
o Sultanpur-Amethi – This 29 km long line was sanctioned in 2010-11 at the cost of INR 153 crore
- Five model stations have been upgraded at Nihalgarh, Musafirkhana, Gauriganj, Jais, and Bani
- A multi-functional complex at Amethi Railway station is being developed, having facilities like restaurant, stores, budget hotels, and shopping complex
- Railway over-bridges were constructed at Gauriganj, and a bridge was sanctioned at Kakwa Road in the Amethi Lok Sabha
- An FM Radio station in Gauriganj was started in 2014 with 5 kW capacity, for entertainment, awareness, and development
- Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana (RGMVP)
Initiated in 2002, the RGMVP is a flagship program of the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT). Working for women empowerment, poverty reduction, and rural development in the backward regions of Uttar Pradesh, the RGMVP’s main activity includes organising poor rural women into community institutions in the form of Self Help Groups (SHGs). Every SHG consists of 10-20 women and provides them a social platform to address several issues ranging from financial inclusion to education, healthcare, livelihood, and environment.
As per the National Human Development Report prepared by the Planning Commission in 2001, Uttar Pradesh ranked 13 out of 15 of the most underdeveloped and impoverished states in the country. Breaking the societal and patriarchal barriers in such a state was an arduous task. But RGMVP’s initiatives did the unthinkable. Today, the women of Amethi and 41 other districts across UP have become a source of wisdom and independent thinking, thanks to the Self Help Groups they are a part of.
So far, over 12 lakh families have been benefitted from these SHGs in UP, and 1,94,530 families have been benefitted from SHGs in Amethi across 706 Gram Panchayats.
The work done under the trust made me realise how we misunderstood what Rahul Gandhi said during his 2014 interview with Arnab Goswami. When he talked of women empowerment, it was all because he had seen the women of backward areas of the country and the patriarchal mindset that surrounds them. He understood that in order to develop a society, one has to break the societal barriers that have put Indian women in shackles for decades.
A decade back from now, Smriti Irani’s visits to Amethi and her ‘Pickle’ initiative would have all failed. It’s all because of the initiatives taken by RGMVP that Amethi’s women could come out of their homes and participate in the community’s development and self-growth activities of the scheme.
Over the years, Congress-led administrations since Rajiv Gandhi’s time, have made several significant developments in Amethi. With the aim to generate employment, improve the standard of living of the people of Amethi and to provide them better education, healthcare, and infrastructural facilities, Congress brought several development-oriented initiatives to Amethi under Rahul Gandhi’s supervision.
However, the only conclusion that I arrived at the end is that it’s a failure on the part of Rahul Gandhi’s team in projecting the work done in the constituency. In this digital era where every work – good or bad – could be brought to the fore, the Congress party’s helplessness to emphasize on its achievements surely hints at a big loophole within the party.
Nevertheless, the gap remains. There’s a lot more which could have been done. Amethi could have been Rahul’s karmabhoomi, his personal success story. Amethi can redefine the Congress’s political capital in UP.