Amethi is a wonderful example of how the Congress manages to make poor people happy without giving them anything substantial in return. According to district revenue department records, over two lakh landless people, including 35,000 Scheduled Caste (SC) men, got between one bigha and five bighas of land in two instalments from 1966 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984 when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of the country.
Obviously, her intentions were good. But what her managers at that time didn’t let her know was that the majority of the barren land were given to Scheduled Castes, while the fertile land went to those who were well-off and close to the panchayat heads, who in turn become hard-core Congressmen.
Indira’s focus on Amethi was obvious because barring 1977 and 1998, when Ravindra Pratap Singh of Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) and Sanjay Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (now he is a Congress MP), had defeated her younger son late Sanjay Gandhi and family loyalist Satish Sharma, respectively, the constituency was always held by the Congress since 1967. Her own family members or loyalists have been winning from there.
VD Bajpai, a family loyalist, was elected in 1967. Vidyadhar Bajpai of the party had won in 1971. Sanjay Gandhi had won in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi was elected from there in 1984. Although Raj Mohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, from the Janata Dal and Dalit icon Kansi Ram, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder, had contested from there in 1989, poor people, including Dalits, once again preferred Rajiv because his mother had given them agricultural land. Although, Rajiv appeared mostly with industrialists and gave over 200 of them prime land in the Jagdishpur area of the constituency to open industries, people voted him to his third consecutive term in 1991, because of his mother. It did not matter that the land was barren or that the industrialists who had opened their units in Jagdishpur promptly declared their units sick and minted money from the land which they had got on a subsidised rate. The poor have not even been given jobs with these industrial units.
Sadly, things have not changed in the last three-four decades since farm land was given to poor people at the behest of Indira. Her grandson and the Congress vice-president Rahul seems to be least interested in taking the initiative to look at the ugly realities of his constituency with his own eyes. Instead, he depends on those who have a habit of keeping him in the dark.
It is not that the Gandhi-Nehru family has not done anything for the constituency. But a harsh reality is that their actions have not really helped the poor. Take for example, the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Academy (IGRUA) or the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIFT) where the poor people sell tea and vegetables. Economically, they can’t afford to send their children to these institutes.
So far, all Rahul can boast of in Amethi is a network of self-help groups through which poor women have been able to take loans at an interest rate of two per cent only. But Rahul must not be aware, his own party’s Ajit Jogi had developed a much better network of self-help groups in Chhattisgarh during his tenure as the CM from 2000 to 2003.
The experiments Rahul boasts of in Amethi, just one constituency, is working more effectively in all the 11 Lok Sabha constituencies of Chhattisgarh. While only a few women can afford to pay an interest rate of two per cent in Amethi, they have been utilising the scheme all too willingly in Chhattisgarh. This is because Jogi looked at the problems with his own eyes. Rahul needs to learn to do the same and quickly.