Unnao, a small town 70 km from Lucknow, predominantly a Brahmin-majority area, is also the hometown of the in-laws of Sheila Dikshit, the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate for the Uttar Pradesh elections until its alliance with the Samajwadi Party. As Dikshit faded from UP’s electoral scene, The Sunday Guardian visited the area which used to be a Congress bastion once upon a time and was the home turf of Congress leaders such as Sheila Dikshit’s father-in-law Uma Shankar Dikshit, and his nephew Gopinath Dikshit. But Unnao, which elected a Congress MP, Annu Tandon even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, has decisively turned away from the party.
“Unnao used to be a strong constituency for Congress. The Bangarmau seat from Unnao always backed the party but the nepotism in the party and visionless leadership cost the party its strong support from the district,” Gautam Kumar Dikshit, the son of Gopinath Dikshit, told The Sunday Guardian.
Dikshit said that the Congress gained a great deal of goodwill from the legacy of his grandfather and his father Gopinath Dikshit, who was Home Minister in Uttar Pradesh government on multiple occasions. However, Sheila Dikshit cost the “grand old party” its loyal voters from the area.
“Whatever work has been done in Unnao was done under my father and grandfather. Sheila Dikshit won a Parliament seat from Kannauj (1984), but lost from Unnao (in a subsequent LS election) when she fought from the All India Congress Committee led by dissident N.D. Tiwari. After that she went on to focus on national politics and totally forgot Unnao. This political lacuna was exploited by Bharatiya Janta party and other regional parties like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. In politics you cannot afford to ignore your vote bank. Congress is realising that now,” said Dikshit.
Dikshit also pointed that the new generation of voters in Unnao district has stopped connecting with the Congress and the Dikshit family.
“The fact of the matter is that the Congress is reduced to a position where they are contesting at a mere 105 seats. That itself is a defeat for the first and the oldest political party of independent India.It hurts to see the party living on the mercy of regional parties.”
“The older generations still favoured Congress even after Sheila Dikshit abandoned Unnao. But now the new generation, which was five years old then and is around 25 years old now, does not connect with them. They recognise themselves with leaders and parties who have had a strong presence in the state and the district,” noted Dikshit.
Another distant relative of Sheila Dikshit, Vindhvasini Devi, a retired Railway officer, accused Dikshit of turning her back towards her own people: “Who knows that Sheila Dikshit was married here? In the last 15 years she never showed up, not even to meet her well wishers. What MGR was to Jayalalithaa and Kansi Ram to Mayawati, Uma Shankar was to Sheila (Dikshit). But unlike the other two ladies, she did not focus on regional politics and went for the glamour of Delhi and national politics. People vote for a party when they feel a connection. That connection is long lost.”
Talking about the decline of the Congress in Unnao, Gautam Dikshit claimed that while the foundation of the Congress’ slump in the district was laid by Sheila Dikshit, Annu Tandon’s myopic approach hammered the final nail in the coffin.
Tandon was the MP in the 15th Lok Sabha from Unnao. Tandon marked her presence in the Congress after she revived party’s fortune in Unnao unit by defeating BSP’s Arun Shankar Shukla.
“Annu Tandon finished Congress’ existence in the district. She did some good work initially but later power got the best of her. Her behaviour towards party workers weakened the Congress. See, party workers need respect and if you cannot ensure that, they would abandon you. She thought after Sonia Gandhi she was an important figure in the party. Her focus on power rather than work finished whatever was left of the party,” Dikshit said.
When asked if sticking with Sheila Dikshit as CM candidate would have provided a fillip to the Congress’ fortune in the state, Gautam Dikshit said, “There’s no point in assuming things now. The fact of the matter is that the Congress is reduced to a position where they are contesting at a mere 105 seats. That itself is a defeat for the first and the oldest political party of independent India. My forefathers worked hard to establish the party’s regional presence and it hurts to see the party living on the mercy of a regional party.”
Towards the end of the conversation, Dikshit admitted that he did not see the Congress reviving in the near future. He also termed the Congress’ alliance with the Samajwadi Party as “desperate and suicidal attempt”.