A wave rides on bumpy roads
Poor infrastructure and general ugliness of B-towns of Eastern Uttar Pradesh is feeding this intense desire for change
Sanjay Kapoor Bhadoi
To reach the village of HariyanW, one needs to get off the freshly metalled Bhadoi bypass and take a village road. As soon as the car lowers its front wheels onto a village road, you know you are in deep trouble. Everything about the dirt strip is suspect: how far it will remain motorable and how many potholes it will have and where it will really end. The experience of these roads is not limited to iterant journalists or casual carpet buyers, but feeds the monstrous anti-incumbency against the government of Akhilesh Yadav and lends a rose-tinted view to the villagers of the nebulous Gujarat Model.
HariyanW is hellish to visit during summer — so hot and dirty that it is difficult to romanticize anything about village life. Its decrepit houses and unending filth just don’t allow the discussion to stray to any other issue besides development. Surely, the villagers of UP — actually, small town India — do not want to languish any longer in the dirt, grime and disuse that is so typical of the countryside. They want change and quickly!
Where is all this leading? A big victory for Narendra Modi that will slice through caste scores or the usual election results from UP that see regional parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) making a mockery of such waves?
HariyanW sweeps away suggestions that it is a normal election. This writer is told by local villagers that there is a wedding in the village and that would be a good occasion to learn which way the political wind is blowing. Arrangements for a wedding reception are in full progress. The hot winds make a mockery of all the canopies and the tentwallah’s efforts to dress up the ordinariness of the place. There are many people lazing around on charpoys or just hanging loose. The father of the bride yells out and tells people to come and talk to us. Quickly, chairs are arranged and people sit down.
Misraji, a schoolteacher and official dispenser of wisdom, begins to moderate the discussion between us and half-asleep wedding guests. Misraji prefaces the discussion with his statement, “This time around, all of us will be voting for Modi. You can ask anyone here.” He is quick to point out the various castes and who they would vote for. Most of the village castes are here: the Brahmins, Thakurs, Yadavs, Binds, Prajapatis and so on. We make a quick calculation about how much they add up in a typical Parliamentary constituency.
The CSDS study of elections is a ready reckoner. It suggests that a majority of the upper caste votes for the BJP. It was only in 2009 that they showed a fall. What is remarkable about the line-up presented to us is that it includes backwards. There are no Muslims or Dalits. Also excluded are the poorest of the poor and the extreme untouchables who live on the periphery of the villages, the musahars — the rat- eaters. BJP leaders would’ve smelled the coffee, listening to these voices!
A young man says with unconcealed aggression, “We need change and the only one who can make a difference to our lives is Modi. After all, he has transformed Gujarat.” Asked what he knows about Gujarat, he says: “I know there are good roads and 24/7 power supply.” He adds, “We are getting 12 hours’ power due to the elections, but we don’t know what will happen afterwards.” The others nod.
Asked about the government of Akhilesh Yadav, the youth says it has done little. He points to the road between Bhadoi and Varanasi, which is in such poor state that it defies logic. “Even if we earn Rs 60 a day, Rs 10 goes in fixing the punctured tubes of our cycles. It’s a daily occurrence,” he explains.
Then there is the issue of jobs. All the young men hope that, with Modi at the helm, there will be jobs for them. Much of what was said seemed straight out of the BJP propaganda, so much so that we felt they had been tutored or were rabid BJP supporters. Worse, some of them did not know who they were voting for. But their desire for change seemed perfectly valid with the awful roads, power supply and the ugliness present in most of the B towns of north India.
The next halt, in a nearby village, is markedly similar. These villagers, too, seem to have made up their minds to vote for Modi. There are some carpet weavers who have moved to agriculture after the western market for carpets collapsed in 2008. They are bitter that the government did nothing for them and once again we hear the usual spiel about why they are voting for the pied piper from Gujarat. “We voted for the Congress and the Samajwadi Party last time,” quickly adds a villager, putting to rest our suspicions that we are perhaps speaking to people from an RSS Shakha.
The desire for change is so aggressively flaunted that it leaves little space for dissent. It is possible to sense a streak of Hindu nationalism amongst some who unabashedly say that having Modi at the helm will at least put Muslims in their place after the manner in which SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has pampered them. Misraji is quick to point out that even Yadavs are disgusted with Mulayam’s politics of ‘appeasement’ and are supporting the BJP. Although development is the key theme, strains of the Hindu-Muslim face-off were visible.
Neeru Kapoor, owner of one of Bhadoi’s most important carpet export houses, does not conceal his fondness for the BJP. He says the party has support in Bhadoi. What about the Muslims and Dalits? He suggests we speak to his workers, who are Muslim. Though reluctant to reveal their electoral choices, they are quick to say that most Muslims will wait till the last day to decide. By the look of it, it will not be an easy decision as they find parties slowly losing their capacity to put up a decent fight against the BJP. For some, the option could be the SP candidate, Vijay Mishra, who is using all the tricks in the business to ensure the arithmetic favours him.
The test in Bhadoi, as elsewhere in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is whether the formidable state power along with the Yadav-Muslim combine engineered by Mulayam or the steady Dalit support base of the BSP stop this, admittedly, rising tide of support for the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi.