Gilded Promise of Change

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Jitin Prasada
Photo: Vijay Pandey

ON THE penultimate day of campaigning for the last leg of the Lok Sabha elections, the mood in Uttar Pradesh’s Dhaurara constituency is one of restless anticipation. A crowd of over 1,500 has gathered to witness the execution of a promise made by “a look-alike of a Bollywood hero,” one who has a “sone ka dil (heart of gold)”. Jitin Prasada, the Congress MP from Shahjahanpur is the object of such praise and his constituents say he is a man of his word. Half an hour into the meeting, the first faint drone of a helicopter is heard. The crowd rushes pellmell to the makeshift helipad. When the helicopter finally lands, they are bubbling with excitement. “I have fulfilled my promise of bringing you a politician in a helicopter. Now, it’s your turn to fulfil yours. Vote for me,” Jitin orders the exultant crowd.

Jitin Prasada is contesting this election from Dhaurara after Shahjahanpur, his home turf, (his father, Congress stalwart Jitendra Prasada had represented Shahjahanpur for four terms in the Lok Sabha), was reserved as a Scheduled Caste seat following delimitation in 2007. The fight is tough, for three reasons. First, Dhaurara doesn’t contain any portion of Shahjahanpur and Jitin, therefore, had to start completely afresh. Second, the region is dominated by the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Jitin’s main contender, besides 10 other candidates, is BSP veteran and senior Lok Sabha member Rajesh Verma. Third, the Samajwadi Party broke its promise not to contest Dhaurara, which could lead to a split in Muslim and Yadav votes. It has fielded ex-MLA Om Prakash Gupta as their candidate. But Jitin says he is on top of things. “Initially, I did think that the SP would eat into my secular vote but after my door-to-door campaign, I am confident of my win,” he says.

Empowering villages may be every politician’s catchphrase. ‘But,’ says Jitin, ‘I’m also working towards delivering’

Jitin’s detractors feel that he is here only because he’s the son of Jitendra Prasada and is a “karibi mitr” (close friend) of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. But it would be unfair to dismiss the young MP as merely that. His colleagues and constituents call him hardworking and committed. Of the 20 Lok Sabha seats that the Congress has its hopes pinned on, Dhaurara is one. And, of course there’s the work of the last five years that he’s done as an MP, which buttresses his claims. Eight health camps, 5,000 cataract surgeries, the establishment of 30 schools equipped with computers and the laying of the foundation stone for a steel processing plant are some of his accomplishments. Jitin Prasada has spent 80 percent of his MPLAD fund to repair rutted roads and build new ones. “You cannot deliver 100 percent,” he says. “Problems are plenty. And the money we get is peanuts.”

POLITICS SEEMS predestined for this 35-year-old as his father and grandfather were both Congressmen. His decision, however, to enter the family vocation came only after his father’s death in January 2001. “I had to stand by the people who stood by my family all these years,” says the MBA graduate, who quit his corporate job to “connect with the people”. In 2004, Jitin defeated the SP’s RMS Verma by a margin of over 80,000 votes. Since then, the young MP has become a national figure. In September 2007, he was made a secretary in the All India Congress Committee and in April 2008, he was inducted into the Ministry of Steel as Minister of State.

Ask him about his aspirations and he swears by his party’s command. Ask him if his party can think of a leader apart from a Gandhi-Nehru and he answers like a true Congressman: “The people want only Rahul Gandhi to lead the country”. Ask him if he ever wants to move ahead of Rahul and he says that he doesn’t bite off more than he can chew. But Jitin has a vision for India. It is to bridge the divide between the rural and the urban, empower villages, give them roads, water, health, education and employment to the youth. Aren’t these every politician’s catchphrases? “I am not merely talking, but am also working towards delivering,” he says. “My motto is simple: continuous development.”

As the campaign for the day draws to a close, Jitin has another task at hand. Actor-turned-Congressman Raj Babbar has failed to appear for the public meeting and the crowd is upset. But Jitin knows how to calm them. “I guarantee you that I will get a better film star to this very ground after the elections. What do you want? A hero or a heroine?” he asks the gathering. “Heroine,” they shout back. “Which one?” he asks. “Aishwarya,” they roar. With the crowds at his side, and the promise of Bollywood heroines in the air, Jitin Prasada heads back towards his waiting cavalcade.

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