This land of Buddha looks for deliverance | India News

SHRAVASTI: From being the home of Anathapindika, the richest donor for Gautam Buddha who, according to a legend, covered Jetavana with leaves of gold to buy it and offer it to the Enlightened One as his resting place, to being one of India’s poorest districts, Shravasti has seen much. Listed as one of the aspirational districts of the NITI Aayog’s poverty alleviation programme, Shravasti along with its poor neighbours, Bahraich and Balrampur districts, forms one of the country’s most deprived blocks where much is planned to be done.
Shravasti is one of the very few districts in India which don’t have a railway station of their own.The nearest station here is Payagpur in the neighbouring Bahraich district.
The promise of setting up industries here and providing job opportunities to the local youth is the main poll pitch of both the incumbent MP and his challenger.
Interestingly, like Anathapindika, who was an industrialist and a banker, the two main Lok Sabha contenders here are BJP’s Saket Mishra, a former banker, and sitting MP and INDIA bloc’s candidate Ram Shiromani Verma, an industrialist.
Verma who had barely managed to scrape past BJP’s Daddan Mishra in 2019 with a margin of 5,320 votes, faces both anti-incumbency and a challenger with a pedigree. Saket is the son of Nripendra Mishra, the chairperson of Ram Mandir Construction Committee and former principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Saket’s maternal grandfather Pt Badluram Shukla, a freedom fighter, had represented Bahraich Lok Sabha in the 1970s as a Congress candidate.
Saket, who was nominated by UP governor as an MLC in 2023, has worked in the region for a few years now. In 2019, he was appointed advisor to Purvanchal Vikas Board, to provide ideas for the holistic development of eastern Uttar Pradesh. In an interview to PTI, he recently said that he plans to improve the health, industry and education sectors in Shravasti and its neighbouring districts.
Saket, who opted out of Indian Police Services after clearing the exam in 1994, to work as an investment banker says he will use his contacts in the industry to bring employment opportunities for the youths of the districts.
Aspirations of the deprived
For the voters in the region, development, employment opportunities and assurance of basic facilities remain top on the poll agenda.
“Despite being such an important place of both Buddhism and Jainism, along with being a place of great interest in Southeast Asia, none of the political parties have shown interest in the region or done any development here,” said Manish Rawat who owns a small food kiosk in Katra. “We are yet to get an MP who really cares about the place,” he said. Prodded a bit more, he says Saket Mishra seems earnest.
Kiran Yadav, a BA student who has to travel to Gonda to catch a train whenever she has to take an examination in Delhi or Lucknow, says, “Even after being an important district, there are no railway lines here.”
“I become an object of curiosity among my friends elsewhere when I tell them that my district doesn’t have a railway station of its own,” she adds.
A government school teacher, Sachin Tiwari, in Motipur Barahwa village, said that the district has immense potential to generate employment and be turned into a major tourist hub, but so far, no candidate has shown an interest in it.
Savita Singh, from Gopalpur village in Ikauna tehsil who runs an NGO, says that her vote is for the candidate who establishes a good medical college in the region. “Even the primary health centres and community health centres lack basic facilities,” she adds.
Kartavya Kumar, who owns a small dhaba on Shravasti-Barabanki highway, believes that the NDA government paid some attention to the district.
“An airport was inaugurated in Shravasti in February. Additionally, the foundation stone for a state university, dedicated to Maa Pateshwari Devi, was laid in Balrampur. Infrastructure projects, including the commencement of work on Ring Road, are underway. Underpasses and roads have been widened,” he says.
Caste combinations
Until 2008, it was known as Balrampur Lok Sabha constituency. The political history of this place, prior to Independence, has seen a confrontation between Hindu Mahasabha and pro-Pakistan voices in Balrampur. After the Partition, Balrampur estate was led by Rajputs/Thakurs which led to their rivalry with the Brahmins.
Since its first Lok Sabha election in 2009, it has given MPs from three different parties. In 2009, the seat was won by Vinay Pandey of Congress. In 2014, BJP’s Daddan Mishra won, and then in 2019, SP-BSP joint candidate Ram Shiromani Verma won with a margin of just 5,320 votes. Interestingly, NOTA count of 17,108 votes was way more than the winning margin. This time, BJP’s Saket Mishra, a Brahmin, is pitted against SP’s Verma, a Kurmi.
Interestingly, the sitting MP was also expelled by the BSP for indiscipline weeks before the polls began.
The BSP has given a ticket to Muinuddin Ahmad Khan, who has a Gangsters Act case against him.
Shravasti has around 30.79% Muslim population. While it has 68.79% Hindu population, which includes 17% Dalits, 10% Kurmis, 8% each Yadavs and Brahmins, 7% Kshatriyas, 6% Vaishyas, 2% STs and others. Under the Shravasti Lok Sabha, there are five assembly segments – Tulsipur, Gainsar, Balrampur, Bhinga and Shravasti.
First three segments come under Balrampur district and other two fall under Shravasti district. In 17 general elections here, only four Muslims have been elected. These Muslims belonged to the upper caste. The politics here remains dominated by Hindu upper castes. Thakurs won this seat four times and Brahmins eight times. In the political contest, Indian National Congress (INC) has won the Lok Sabha seat six times and BJP seven times. SP has won it twice, while BSP once.
Once battleground of the stalwarts
Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee started his political journey from the seat. Another right-wing stalwart and social reformer Nanaji Deshmukh represented Balrampur in Lok Sabha in 1971-1979). Deshmukh, who was awarded Bharat Ratna in 2019, played an important role in carrying out a social restructuring programme in over 500 villages of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. He established the country’s first Saraswati Sishu Mandir at Gorakhpur in 1950 and was the founder of Deendayal Research Institute situated at Chitrakoot. Freedom fighter and Congress leader Subhadra Joshi, who took part in Quit India movement, represented Balrampur in 1962. As a parliamentarian, she made an outstanding contribution to the passage of the Special Marriage Act, the Nationalization of Banks, Abolition of Privy Purses, Aligarh University Amendment Act and others.
Mohammed Hasan, former gram pradhan of Mahdewa village in Bhinga tehsil, says that he had heard from his grandfather how their village had collected funds when Atal Bihari Vajpayee had contested polls from this constituency, then known as Balrampur LS seat, in 1957. It was Vajpayee’s first stint with politics. “He used to eat food at the house of common people here, irrespective of caste and religion, and interacted with each one. He lost in 1962 from the seat against Congress’s Subhadra Joshi, but even then, used to come and visit us. We are yet to see such a candidate again. We again voted for him in 1967 when he won,” says Hasan.

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