New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance government on Saturday reached out to people in Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s constituency Amethi in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, with its flagship entitlement scheme of giving cooking gas connections to the poor, called Ujjwala Yojana and assurances on skill development and employment.
Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan along with human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar and textiles minister Smriti Irani inaugurated a permanent campus for Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology (RGIPT). The central ministers also attended the distribution of 1,000 liquified petroleum gas (LPG) connections to the poor in Amethi without an upfront security deposit.
Uttar Pradesh, which is going to assembly elections early next year, is a priority state for the Ujjwala scheme as LPG access to households in the state is below the national average by 7-8 percentage points.
In Uttar Pradesh, electorally India’s largest state with 403 assembly seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party os looking to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha election performance when the NDA won 73 out of the 80 seats. In Amethi, Union minister Smriti Irani had contested and lost against Rahul Gandhi during the 2014 general elections.
Responding to Pradhan’s invitation for the launch of the campus, Rahul Gandhi in a letter said that the previous UPA government had piloted the enactment of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology Act 2007, making the RGIPT an institute of national importance.
“I am happy that this historical effort of ours is moving forward. I would, however, like to bring to your notice that a number of other major development initiatives in Amethi which had either been legislated or had received cabinet approval have not progressed during the current NDA government,” Gandhi said in his letter.
The polls are crucial for the BJP as a win in Uttar Pradesh would bolster the chances of the party’s expansion in north India. The Congress party has is also looking to revive their position where Rahul Gandhi has just completed a month long campaign. Both the regional parties—incumbent Samajwadi Party and main opposition Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party—are eyeing the election.
“This is not the first time that Smriti Irani is going to Amethi for election campaign. BJP is only trying hoping that people will get distracted through these events and forget about issues like price rise, rural distress, and deteriorating law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh,” said a senior Congress leader from the state.
Pradhan said his government has spent Rs.302 crore in the state for completing the RGIPT project against the Rs.129 spent between 2008-14, when Congress led-United Progressive Alliance was in power. Also, in the last two years and a half, the number of LPG connections in Amethi has more than doubled to touch two lakhs, said Pradhan.
“In the next two years the target is to ensure 100% penetration of LPG in the district,” said an oil ministry statement quoting Pradhan.
The minister also said that under the scheme meant to empowering and protecting the health of women, nearly 90 Lakh LPG connections have been released since its launch on 1 May at Balia in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said that the oil ministry’s target is to provide LPG connections in each and every household of Uttar Pradesh.
An official involved in implementing the scheme, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said so far, 31 lakh LPG connections have been issued to those below the poverty line in Uttar Pradesh under the scheme, accounting for nearly a third of all the connections issued.
Three districts—Allahabad, Kushinagar and Sitapur—have been issued connections more than one lakh each.
“When we started the programme, the national average of LPG access was 61% of households while the same for UP was 54%. Now, the national average has improved to 68%, while that for UP has moved up to 60%. Jammu and Kashmir, being a hill state is another priority area for the scheme,” said the official. So far, more than 60,000 connections have been given in Jammu and Kashmir under Ujjwala.
Political analysts say that close to the polls, the central government gets an opportunity to showcase the work being done.
“PM Modi himself had urged people to give up their subsidies. With this one gets a sense that the subsidy is being utilized. Politically it is quite relevant and wise to hold the event in Amethi,” said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College.
“So close to the polls, it is normal electoral practice to hold such events specially when there is no code of conduct in play. All parties can be seen taking advantage of the situation with the state government also announcing new schemes,” he added.