In a silent siege that could spark off a mammoth political row, Union minister and BJP’s Amethi MP Smriti Irani has replaced Congress president Sonia Gandhi as chairperson of District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee (DISHA) in neighbouring Rae Bareli, the pocket borough and parliamentary constituency of Gandhi.
As per norm, the sitting MP of a parliamentary seat in the district is appointed chairperson of DISHA by the Union rural development ministry, which conceptualised the committee in 2016 to keep vigil on implementation of various Central schemes through inter-departmental coordination. Currently, Irani also holds charge of DISHA in Amethi.
Talking to TOI, district magistrate, Rae Bareli, Vaibhav Srivastava, confirmed the development, saying since Salon block in Rae Bareli district comes under Amethi, Irani has been made the chairperson of DISHA in Rae Bareli. Chief development officer, Rae Bareli, Abhishek Goel, told TOI that “the seat has been vacant since 2019.”
Though district officials refused to clarify on whether an MP can hold dual district posts, experts said the move comes just ahead of the scheduled Lucknow visit of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi and marks BJP’s pointed attempt to make deeper inroads into the Congress pocket borough in the run-up to assembly elections next year. On Tuesday, Irani, who is also Union minister for women and child development, was inducted in the cabinet committee on political affairs headed by PM Narendra Modi.
Interestingly, the rural development ministry website still mentions Sonia Gandhi as chairperson of the DISHA committee for Rae Bareli while her son, Rahul Gandhi, who represented Amethi till 2019 is shown as co-chairperson. Rahul is also mentioned as chairperson of Amethi.
Guidelines issued by the rural development ministry categorically maintains that a Lok Sabha MP elected from the district should be made the chairperson of DISHA committee. In case more than one MPs are elected from the district then the “senior MP” should be made chairperson. Sonia has been representing Rae Bareli since 2004, while Irani became MP of Amethi for the first time in 2019 Lok Sabha elections after defeating Rahul Gandhi by a margin of over 55,000 votes. Rahul, however, won from Wayanad in Kerala.
Irani’s takeover of a key committee in Rae Bareli comes amidst Congress grappling with defections in its backyard. Just before 2019 parliamentary elections, Congress MLC Dinesh Pratap Singh crossed over to the saffron camp and contested against Sonia as a BJP candidate, only to be defeated by a margin of over 1.67 lakh votes. His brother Rakesh Singh, who is Congress MLA from Harchandpur assembly seat, too, has been openly hobnobbing with BJP.
BJP spokesperson in Amethi, Govind Chauhan, said Irani has been taking care of Amethi since 2014, when she was defeated. “She consistently groomed the constituency which she eventually won,” he said, adding her appointment as chairperson of DISHA in Rae Bareli would accelerate development in the neighbouring district.