When Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the Rs1,685-crore rail coach factory spread over 541 hectares at Lalganj in Rae Bareli with much fanfare in November 2012, faces of the people in her constituency had lit up with the hope of upcoming job opportunities and economic prosperity. Little did they know that their dreams would crash very soon.
The 20 coaches that Sonia flagged off that day were presented as products of the Rae Bareli factory. The reality: they had been brought from Kapurthala (Punjab) about 900km away, and had only been painted in Rae Bareli. That was not the end of the sham. Each of the 1,500 families which gave their land for the factory were promised jobs. Only about 150 got them; that too not in Rae Bareli, but in other places under the Railways' Lucknow Division.
No wonder then that the people of Rae Bareli are totally disenchanted with the Gandhi family. The effect became clear in the 2012 UP elections when Congress lost all five assembly seats in the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency. "The mother and son come just before the elections and make empty promises," says a resident of Rae Bareli, hinting at the mood on the ground. A look at the socio-economic indices over the past two decades tells the story rather vividly.
Rae Bareli, known as the country's VVIP electoral constituency, doesn't in any way resemble an area cared for by none less than the UPA chairperson herself. That too for a full decade when she was virtually running the government, even if it was from the backseat. The town wears the look of a rustic village. It's indeed a joke that the potholed roads which connect the district have been declared National Highways.
Youngsters of this constituency lament the lack of job opportunities, and most of the industries once promoted by former prime minister Indira Gandhi have been consigned to the graveyard. As per the District Industry Centre (DIC) data, in the last 10 years, as many as 855 small and medium-sized factories, out of the 2,312 in the district, have either closed down or are on the verge of closure. Of the 12 big ones, six have shut down, rendering about 10,000 workers jobless.
"Villagers whose land was acquired got jobs as trackman in the Coach Factory or as clerks in the Fursatganj Aviation University," says Raghubir Prasad of Fursatganj. His son, a graduate, now cleans railway tracks in Kanpur. "Some who refused to pick up jobs as trackman had gone to Delhi to meet Sonia Gandhi, but failed to see her after waiting for two days," said Ram Sharan, a graduate, who is among the many who did not accept the 'D' category job.
The voters of Rae Bareli feel that the Congress party's initiatives of bringing industries to the area have failed to benefit the locals. "The officers working in the factories come from Lucknow and Delhi. They are the masters and we are just servants," said Rajesh, a housekeeper at the Fursatganj academy.
The constituency does not have a university and there is only one government aided college. The locals feel that in the absence of basic education facilities, those living around these units cannot get through the premium institutes created in the constituency.
Ajay Agarwal, the BJP candidate against Sonia, points out that Rae Bareli gets just about 10 hours of power supply while the villages get less than six hours a day. "It is the feudal mindset of the party that is at work. Mrs Gandhi does not want the people to have access to information, education and general awareness. The Congress government wants the poor in the area to remain poor, so that they have their votes intact," he said. "The people here do not want the VVIP tag. They want jobs, education and other facilities, and they are looking up to Narendra Modi."
The Congress has a stock reply to all the criticism. "The Centre gives hundreds of crores, but the state government delays the projects due to petty politics. It does not give power to the area. The files for strengthening roads keep moving in the state secretariat and as a result, the projects slow down," says Congress spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh.