East Uttar Pradesh, where Congress’s newly appointed general secretary Priyanka Gandhi will take charge on behalf of the party, has been, over the years, a Congress stronghold in the state. In 2009, the party won as many as 21 seats from the region.
East UP will also be the political hotbed in the state in the coming elections. It is home to the constituencies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Varanasi), Home Minister Rajnath Singh (Lucknow), and the region around Gorakhpur, the home turf of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
But some of the Congress’s best results have also come from East UP. In 2014, when the Congress nearly folded up in UP amid a Modi wave, the only two seats it retained – Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli and Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi – is in this region. In that sense, party insiders said, Priyanka will have her task cut out: to wrest some of those seats back for the party.
On the other hand, most of West UP, where Jyotiraditya Scindia will be in charge, comprises constituencies where the party is not very strong – the reason it had left 11 seats for alliance partners Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Mahan Dal in 2014, and two for Samajwadi Party (SP) even without an alliance.
Uttar Pradesh is usually divided into four regions: western, eastern, central and Bundelkhand regions. In this divide, eastern UP, or Purvanchal, has 26 Lok Sabha constituencies abutting Bihar and Chhattisgarh. But the Congress has divided the state into two parts, meaning roughly 40 seats each in East and West UP.
With the SP and BSP having this time announced that they will not put up candidates in Rae Bareli and Amethi, the Congress may leave some seat for the BSP near the national capital in West UP.
Of the 11 constituencies where the Congress polled more than 1 lakh votes in 2014, nine are in East UP. Besides Rae Bareli and Amethi, Congress leader P L Punia polled 2.42 lakh votes, while in Kushinagar R P N Singh got 2.8 lakh votes against the winning BJP candidate.
In Mirzapur, next to Varanasi, Congress’s Lalitesh Pati Tripathi got over 1.5 lakh votes even though he came third (Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal, an NDA partner, won). In Lucknow, then Congress leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi, now with BJP, finished second, polling nearly 2.8 lakh votes against Rajnath Singh.
In Allahabad, Nanda Gopal Nandi, who later joined BJP and became a minister, received over 1 lakh votes, although he finished fourth. In Faizabad, former state unit chief Nirmal Khatri got over 1 lakh votes.
In 2009, out of 21 seats the party won in UP, 13 were from this region: Rae Bareli, Amethi, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Faizabad, Shravasti, Unnao, Barabanki, Bahraich, Dhaurara, Domariygan. Several candidates who won from this region became Union ministers, including R P N Singh (Kushinagar), Beni Prasad Verma (Gonda), and Jitin Prasada (Dhaurara). Punia, who won from Barabanki reserved constituency, was made chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
Missed development bus
While the region has suffered from lack of development, and many areas of East UP are fighting diseases such as encephalitis, districts such as Sonbhadra, comprising Robertganj Lok Sabha constituency, are also plagued with Left-Wing Extremism. The Tarai belt of districts such as Shravasti, Bahraich, Lakhimpur Kheri and Balranmpur, etc, are hit by floods almost every year when Nepal releases excess water following heavy rainfall in the monsoon months.
From the economic point of view, the region’s economy depends largely on migrant workers — people from districts such as Jaunpur, Gorakhpur, Ghazipur, Azamgarh, etc have gone out to Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat – even Saudi Arabia — in search of jobs. Following implementation of demonetisation, this region also suffered the most, as migrant workers in large number were forced to return home after work dried up and small unit downed shutters. Some of these families, it is said, are yet to emerge from that downturn.