October 28, 2020
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The Other Mrs Gandhi

The MP for five consecutive terms failed to give Pilibhit any prominence or a profile anywhere close to that of Rae Bareli and Amethi. Other than distribution of her MPLAD fund, she did hardly anything else to boast of

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The Other Mrs Gandhi
PTI Photo
The Other Mrs Gandhi

Traditionally, a quiet and dormant constituency, situated in one remote corner of North-Western Uttar Pradesh, bordering the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, Pilibhit was rarely in the news. Even the presence of the other Gandhi -- Maneka -- for five consecutive terms,  failed to give Pilibhit any prominence or a profile anywhere close to that of Rae Bareli and Amethi.

And the reasons were not far to seek. Pilibhit never witnessed even a fraction of the development that was more than visible in the constituencies of Maneka's estranged kins -- Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. In fact, other than distribution of her MPLAD fund, Maneka, has hardly anything to boast of . What was worse that far from building the constituency, whatever little she had contributed in the name of development of this place was long dead and forgotten.

Significantly, the demands raised by the locals were never too tall for a personality like Maneka to fulfil. Then what kept her away from using her own clout with the erstwhile BJP government or even her tenure as a powerful cabinet minister for doing some good to the constituency that had sent her to the national parliament five times? Perhaps her general indifference and apathy. It was also the docility of the local electorate .

Maneka could afford to remain complacent because she was aware of her solid base vote of about one lakh Sikhs to which an addition of the traditional BJP vote always kept her in a formidable position.

No wonder, therefore, she could afford to overlook the popular demand for ensuring conversion of the existing local narrow-gauge railway line into broad gauge. "Every successive election she assured us that the conversion task was to be undertaken soon, but what came as an eye opener this time was a categorical statement issued by the Railway Board clearly indicating that Maneka had made no concrete effort in that direction", observed Keshav Agarwal a prominent Pilibhit journalist, who had once worked as her personal secretary.

Agarwal was of the view, "there was enough reason to believe that development of the constituency was not Maneka Gandhi's cup of tea; she prefers issues which have the potential to give her instant publicity."

In sharp contrast to the Gandhis of Rae Bareli and Amethi, this Gandhi from Pilibhit does not have a single industry to her credit . "A number of rice mills have definitely come up in and around Pilibhit over the years, but none of these could be attributed to Maneka" , observed Anil Bisht , an unemployed graduate , who wonders why even during her ministerial days, Maneka did not care to push some employment generating industry here.

Quipped Ganga Ram, a young farm labourer, "Maneka Gandhi remains more concerned about animals than she is about human beings." He went on to narrate an incident of 2002 when as Union Minister for Social Justice, Maneka meted out the biggest injustice to the priest of a Hanuman temple along the Puranpur road. Maneka ordered local officials in Pilibhit to pull down the temple simply because a stray monkey entrusted to the temple priest's custody by her, escaped into the wilderness. Rajesh Giri, the temple priest has not forgotten the trauma that he had to go through on that account . "Had it not been for violent reaction to the demolition provoking hundreds of villagers to stage a road-block , followed by a court petition, the temple would not have been there and I would have been behind bars" Giri recalls .

"And it was thanks to our then Puranpur MLA V.M.Singh , who promptly moved the High Court against Maneka's dictatoriial and whimsical act", pointed out Giri, while adding, "finally the entire temple was restored on the direction of the High Court".  Singh, who is in the main race this time as Congress nominee this time is also widely praised for his commitment and dedication to the cause of local people, who hail him as a "messiah of the farmer and the poor."

Other than a few internal roads and lanes in the town, Maneka's visible "contributions" to her constituency were a 'Disabled rehabilitation centre' and a Cattle Protection Home entrusted to the local Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Interestingly, the Disabled Centre in the heart of town appears to be in an utter state of decay with doors locked, cobwebs plastered on the dirty walls and rusted and dilapidated wheel chairs or artificial limbs littered all over the place. The state of the cattle home on the city outskirts was no better and clearly, this one too existed only in name.

The name of Maneka Gandhi is boldly engraved on the walls of the two institutions . But when was last that she visited these places? Not after she inaugurated them in the late nineties.

According to Pilibhit chief development officer Surendra Singh, "all that this district has in the name of industry were sugar mills - three in he cooperative sector and two private mills, one of which was set up by Hindustan Bajaj during the last regime of Mulayam Singh Yadav."

Asked why Maneka never thought about developing her constituency which was agriculturally very rich and therefore had the potential for a big boost, Keshav Agarwal claimed that he had himself asked her the same question . "Do dangle a bottle of cool water before a thirsty man, but give him only a few drops at a time", was stated to be Maneka's instant reply . "And that sums up her entire attitude", he added.

Maneka's lip service did pay rich dividends for five successive terms . Apparently, she could now smell that her old trick may not work yet again , so she decided to push her son Varun into the fray while choosing to herself shift to the adjoining Aonla constituency. She is also understood to have chalked out the political path for Varun, who is understood to have carried out everything as per the orchestrated plan. However, whether that hard-line Hindutva line, laced with rabid anti-Muslim venom would bear fruit by keeping his mother's "contribution" towards "development" under wraps, only time would tell.

Education Qualification: I.S.C. 
Constituency: Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh )
Criminal Charges: Nil
Party : Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 
Performance in Lok Sabha (from 10th to 12th Session -- 23/2/2007 to 7/12/2007)
Attendance in 2007: 49/66
No. of Unstarred* Questions raised: 13
No. of times she participated in the Lok Sabha in proceedings (excluding Questions): 5
*Starred Question is where an MP desires an oral answer in the House and Unstarred  Question is where  a written answer is sought.
Project-wise details of sanction of MPLADS funds not available on the Government of India MPLADS website


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