Infrastructure projects, construction of roads, riverfront projects, new healthcare facilities, hospitals, pension schemes, freebies to government employees, free treatment to indigent senior citizens, new cancer institutes — it’s raining sops in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
As India’s politically most crucial state goes to the hustings early next year, it’s a mad, mad race for taking credit as both the central and state governments roll out development projects and welfare schemes to woo voters.
Thus, it is no wonder that while Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is on a binge to announce new projects and cut ribbons of the projects that are under way, many still incomplete, the government at the Centre has unleashed its ministers to “set the tide in its favour” by announcing big-ticket projects in a state which elected a whopping 71 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The state has 80 Lok Sabha seats.
On behalf of the Samajwadi Party (SP) government, holding the fort is the 43-year-old Chief Minister who has, in a span of 15 days, inaugurated or laid foundation stones of projects worth more than Rs 75,000 crore ($11 billion).
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He flagged off the trial run of the still-to-be-completed Lucknow Metro Rail; laid the foundation stone of many agro-business projects and over 50 government hospitals; approved salaries and perks for 27 lakh plus state government employees at par with the central government; is distributing free laptops to students; promising smart phones to people on return to power (over 10 million have already registered for this) and has recommended inclusion of 17 Most Backward Castes (MBCs) – Kewat, Kashyap, Kahaar, Godiya, Dheemar, Nishad, Kumhaar, Prajapati and others in the list of Scheduled Castes.
The hurry in the ruling dispensation can be gauged by the fact that the state cabinet held rare back-to-back cabinet meetings in two days; cleared a Rs 1,683 crore supplementary budget, green signalled sops like free treatment up to Rs 30,000 to senior citizens; sanctioned Rs 1,000 crore for the Poorvanchal Expressway and Rs 100 crore for publicity; created 30 new development blocks and several tehsils and hiked the pensions to Vrindavan’s widows from Rs 550 a month to Rs 5,050.
While these decisions are likely to weigh heavy on the state coffers, already strained beyond capacity, ruling party leaders justify them as “acts for public benefit”. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre, aware of the political effect of the battleground in UP, is also in a proactive mode.
Senior ministers like Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Radha Mohan Singh, Kalraj Mishra, Uma Bharti, Manoj Sinha, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and V.K. Singh have been criss-crossing the state, announcing a bevy of centre funded schemes and projects. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an MP from UP, is also getting battle-ready it seems.
Apart from the public rallies he is addressing, he has rolled out projects worth Rs 2,100 crore in his Varanasi parliamentary constituency and projects worth several thousand crores in Kanpur.
Sources in the BJP told IANS that other than lawlessness, the party would focus on development as its plank in the state polls. Rajnath Singh’s Lucknow constituency has so far been gifted an outer ring road worth several thousand crores and sprucing up of railway stations.
The central government has approved Rs 384 crore for constructing 11,000 homes for poor under the Pradhan Mantri Aawaas Yojna. Many road projects have also been set rolling by Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari.
In a politically volatile atmosphere, which way the vote sways will only be known next year, but for now the state and its people seem to be enjoying the envious attention it is getting from all sides.