New Delhi: The Congress party’s attempt to strengthen its political foothold in electorally crucial Uttar Pradesh (UP) by pushing a development plan for the state’s drought-hit Bundelkhand region has been short-circuited by chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government.

In the process, UP lost out on a Rs18,000 crore power plant that was to have been built in Bundelkhand, a 70,000 sq. km region that sprawls over UP and Madhya Pradesh (MP).

The UP government imposed conditions that would have restricted the sale of power generated by the proposed 4,000MW project, which was to be built by state-run power generator NTPC Ltd. In other words, the part of Bundhelkhand falling in MP would not have received power from the project.

NTPC has been forced to relocate the project to MP, ruled by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), forestalling the Congress party’s attempt to improve its political standing with the electorate of UP, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, the most by an Indian state.

“It is clear that the BSP or chief minister Mayawati does not desire for the development of the state," said Anu Tandon, a Congress Lok Sabha member of Parliament from UP. “They raise the bogey of development only to hoodwink the public for their own political gain."

UP energy minister Ramvir Upadhyay and BSP member of Parliament Ambeth Rajan declined to comment on the issue.

The BSP sees the Congress potentially emerging as its main rival in UP and is keen to deny it any advantage ahead of state assembly elections due in 2012, observers say.

“This is more of a political decision and one between the Congress party and BSP," said a technocrat in the UP power department, who didn’t want to be named.

A top official at NTPC explained the decision to relocate the project. “Since NTPC was created as a company to set up inter-state power generation projects, giving 100% power allocation (to one state) is against the principle of the creation of NTPC," said the official, who didn’t want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The multi-crore power project was to follow a development package announced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

The package was unveiled after Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who has been spearheading efforts to revive the party’s fortunes in India’s most populous state, led a delegation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The United Progressive Alliance government has approved a special Rs7,266 crore package for Bundelkhand to implement a drought mitigation strategy.

Bundelkhand comprises of the south-western part of UP and the northern part of MP; it includes seven districts of UP (Banda, Chitrakoot, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur and Mahoba) and six districts of MP (Chhatarpur, Damoh, Datia, Panna, Sagar and Tikamgarh).

The power project, originally set to be built in Lalitpur, was later shifted to Bargad in Banda district. The new project site is expected to be in Chhatarpur district of MP, with the utility agreeing to allocate 50% of the power generated from the project to the state.

“A team from Central Electricity Authority (CEA) is in MP for site selection," said a central government official who also did not want to be identified. CEA is India’s apex power sector planning body and is the nodal agency for project site selection.

As yet, there has been no firm indication whether Congress efforts have struck a chord with the electorate in Bundelkhand. The party’s candidate was third in a November assembly by-election in Jhansi, an assembly constituency vacated by Congress leader Pradeep Jain, who is now minister of state for rural development in the UPA government.

The intensifying demand for a separate Bundelkhand state, which is also backed by Mayawati, is also expected to dampen the Congress’ revival plan in the region.

Congress leaders said the party could hope for a better electoral performance only if it could bring economic development to the region. “We will have to make visible changes in terms of region’s development. That is only way to manage electoral support base there," said a Congress member of Parliament, who did not want to be identified.

“We will have to restructure the entire organization there and introduce the idea of inclusive growth to make inroads into the heavily caste-ridden society there," said B.K. Hariprasad, Congress general secretary in charge of MP.