The political fortune of Lucknow is tied to its prime location in the heart of the lush plains of the fertile Ganga Valley, reports Mehru Jaffer

It is not very difficult to understand why the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) too wants Lucknow. Like all other political parties, Lucknow remains that cherry on the cake for the BJP as well. For a win in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the largest populated state in the country will decide like always, who will lead the government in Delhi after the 16th Lok Sabha election results are announced next month.

The political fortune of Lucknow has been tied for eons to its prime location in the heart of the lush plains of the fertile Ganga Valley. From times forgotten by mind, Lucknow has been an attractive ganj, or treasure house of agricultural produce and a wealthy whole grain marketplace. For the same reason, the place has been coveted ever since pre historic times by warriors from around the world. Rajas, maharajas, nawabs, colonial commissioners, landlords and now politicians have all conquered and controlled Lucknow. These lords have collected for themselves a gigantic proportion of the wealth available here, leaving the region’s majority population mired in poverty. To this day, Uttar Pradesh remains the largest but also the poorest state in the country. To this day, the majority of people here are artisans and peasants whose vote counts, but their dreams, do not.

Even in the best of times, the greater part of the region’s teeming population lived in hovels of mud and thatch. Even in the past there was little sympathy between the people and the government. In feudal India revenge was taken on the farmer for balances unpaid by him, often ending in his total ruin. In independent India revenge continues to be taken on the farmer by forcing him to commit suicide.

Yet despite wrongs suffered by them over time, the majority population of Avadh has always been filled with hope. In 1831, the British Resident noticed a certainty of better times to come amongst the people here and this gave the population a remarkable tenacity and resilience. To the Englishman, the agricultural population seemed like a machine of wonderful elasticity.

For however they may be wronged and oppressed and even when deprived of their all and forced to desert their villages, their natural love of home recalled them to cultivate again their hereditary fields on the slightest prospect of better treatment.

John Pemble in his 1977 book, ‘The Raj, The Indian Mutiny, and the Kingdom of Oudh 1801-1859’, quotes travelers to the region in the 19th century who saw the countryside crammed with thousands of hamlets, each surrounded by its fields and sheltered by an old banyan or peepul tree, the people fostering a way of life starkly different from that of the highly literate and polished society led by non cultivating landlords in the two major cities of Lucknow and Faizabad.

Fertile land

Throughout history, everyone who first saw this part of the great alluvial plain of the Ganges is said to have gone crazy with longing for the flat and fertile land filled with silver pampas grass and wild lotuses on stagnant pools. As far as the eye could see, there were narrow fields and long perspectives of winding rivers and deciduous groves. Lingering longer over the unobtrusive landscape, it was possible to experience the dramatic effect of seasons on the gorgeous grounds when from July to January the rivers were full. The patterns made by the foliage was a combination of emerald green and gold that ran for miles, dappled with the shadow of shifting clouds over thick groves of mango, mahua, jamun and tamarind here, and oak, elm or sycamore trees there.

Writers in the past have noted that from April to June there was no colour save sun and straw, no sound save the rustle and rattle of dry heat. No movement except the long, slow passage of the sun, slicing through the sky like a white hot point through sheet metal. Sometimes a dust storm would turn day into night and leave everything looking like an ash and cinder copy of its former self.

The province was always rich in fauna. Wild tigers were plentiful and the lucky huntsman could still find the odd leopard. There were wild elephants and buffalo in the sparsely inhabited northern regions and peacocks and game birds everywhere.

There are many who went even further into the thickly populated area of the world to find folks living in villages and least conscious of and affected by the existence of men outside their own communities like a thousand years before.

Until not very long ago, marriage and kin connections were confined to villages within a narrow radius and contacts with the world at large were uncertain and infrequent. The only visitors were the occasional detachment of soldiers, wandering faqirs and charlatan yogis all coming one day and gone the next. Excursions outside the village were reserved for landlords and favoured few among the humble folk who after gathering the autumn harvest and sowing the spring crops would often sling a pair of baskets from a pole across the shoulders and go off on a pilgrimage to some distant shrine.

the great majority of the villagers, the country outside their own fields lay beyond the reach of experience, a hinterland belonging to travelers tales, and legends.

The Farmer

The economy of Avadh was always agrarian and the population a grain eating people. The farmer followed the dictates of nature, retreating from the land when it was baked and powdered by the heat of April and May and returning with the first cloudburst in June when it turned black and heavy, the sight of unbelievable vegetation promising plenty of food. As soon as the voice of the cuckoo was heard at twilight, the ploughing began for the autumn crop of rice, corn and millet that was reaped with the onset of the cold weather in November. Ploughing for the second crop of wheat, barley and pulses followed at once and the climax of the agricultural year was reached in March with the cutting of the spring harvest.

When hot weather set in, the labourer got his first and only rest and the agricultural calendar came full circle. The fields were irrigated from wells and pools by means of a system of leather baskets dragged over a squealing pulley on a wooden fulcrum which predated even the Persian wheel. The basic agricultural implement was the bullock drawn wooden plough which scratched the earth to a depth of four or five inches and which like the spinning wheel, the flour mill, the curry pounder, the loom and the tools of the blacksmith and carpenter was of a type that had been used for as long as ten thousand years.

This traditional lifestyle witnessed all political upheavals and vagaries of nature, invasion and war, drought, famine and epidemic that came and went without leaving any permanent imprint on the pattern of rural life. To the delight of cultural anthropologists and only till a few decades ago, there was no change even in costume, as women wore the same sort of skirt, mantle and bodice and men the same type of turban, dhoti and jacket for countless generations.

The Politician

But much has changed since 19th century travelers quoted by Pemble walked here. Momentous economic, political and social changes continue to sweep across the countryside. Today elections are no longer between two political parties like in the past but offer the voter an aggregate of regional political choices. Over time, politics has been regionalised with multi-cornered contests and the participation of strong regional parties.

Of great significance is the political rise in recent times of lower caste people, and women like Mayawati here, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and Jayalalita in Tamil Nadu.

Mayawati is considered something of a miracle in these fast changing times. Her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is responsible for giving a sense of dignity and self-esteem to grassroot Dalits and majority populations marginalised for centuries. The youngest, and first Dalit chief minister of UP, Mayawati was born in a Delhi slum some 56 years ago. In the coming months, this daughter of a Dalit may well recreate history, if not as queen just yet, then surely as kingmaker.

Once the upcoming polls are over and if no one political party gets absolute majority to form the next national government, Mayawati’s BSP is expected to play a crucial role in the formation of any coalition government.

If that does happen then Lucknow will have further pumped up its political reputation for some more times to come.

UP’s Most Colourful Contestants

Varanasi is at the heart of the Lok Sabha elections to be held in nine phases between 7 April to 12 May, to elect 543 members to the 16th Lok Sabha.

Modi

Desperately trying to project himself as a national leader, the very ambitious Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate is challenged by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal who is trying to turn the tide at the ghats in Varanasi in his favour.

Fueling a rise in election fever that grips Varanasi, is Mukhtar Ansari’s challenge to Modi from Agra jail where he is locked up also for the 2005 murder of BJP leader Krishnanand Rai. Ansari won the state assembly elections in 2012 from jail but lost the Lok Sabha contest in 2009 to BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi by a few thousand votes. While the law sees Ansari as a gangster and criminal politician, to his followers he is like Robinhood who sides with the poor against injustice in society.

BJP president Rajnath Singh contests from Lucknow in the name of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 10th prime minster of India who led the only non-Congress government in Delhi to complete its term in office.
Rajnath

Vajpayee, now 90 year old is one of the founders of the BJP and won five elections from Lucknow. He is remembered in the city with great affection and respect. Rajnath, a protege, promises to fulfill Vajpayee’s dream to make Lucknow a bio-technology hub, to clean up the very polluted Gomti River and to connect various rivers to improve the quality and quantity of the Gomti waters.

That is, if Rajnath is elected!

Today, the image of the BJP is not as shinning as it was during the tenure of Vajpayee . After his retirement, Lalji Tandon contested from Lucknow for the BJP. In the 2009 election, Tandon played the part of Bharat and referred to Vajpayee as Rama, protagonist of the epic Ramayana, heir to the throne of Ayodhya but banished into a 14 year exile from his kingdom. Then, Tandon had displayed a pair of khadau, or wooden footwear before voters, to say that like Bharat it was his brother Rama’s khadau that will take to the throne. That symbolism brought him moral support from Vajpayee and he won from Lucknow but failed to live up to his mentor’s image.

RitaPitted against Rajnath is Rita Bahuguna Joshi, daughter of former UP Chief Minister and Congress stalwart Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, and who calls Rajnath an outsider in Lucknow. Voters are aware that Rajnath is no Vajpayee and Rita is no Hemwati. So who will win the prestigious Lucknow seat is any body’s guess till results are declared on 16 May.

Hundreds of other bigwigs and glamour boys and girls will battle for 80 Lok Sabha seats from UP, the largest populated state in the country, including Hema Malini contesting for the BJP from Mathura.Hema

If she wins, the Tamil Nadu born actor-turned-politician vows to clean up the Yamuna River but before that, she has already faced wrath of her party workers who wanted her to return to the movies for making them wait many hours and for not stepping out of her car while in the rustic environs of her constituency.

In Mathura, Hema Malini fights Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) general secretary Jayant Chaudhary, son of party chief Ajit Singh and grandson of Chaudhary Charan Singh, a former Prime Minister.

Raj Babbar of Congress better appreciated for his baritone dialogue delivery on the silver screen in the past, than his politics, contests Shazia Ilmi of AAP in Ghaziabad and the controversial ex- army chief V.K Singh who battles on a BJP ticket. Andhra Pradesh born former actor Jaya Prada, already a two-time parliamentarian from Rampur, fights the coming elections from Bijnore on a RLD ticket. Jaya’s mentor Amar Singh fights from Fatehpur Sikri also as a RLD candidate. The Azamgarh born Amar Singh is a former Samajwadi Party (SP) leader and was once close to Mulayam Singh Yadav, till the poetry spouting neta was disgraced and resigned from the party in 2010.

Sultanpur is interesting for the contest between Congress candidate Ameeta Sinh, Rani of Amethi and a former badminton champion. Ameeta takes on BJP’s Varun Gandhi who is determined to reclaim his father, Sanjay Gandhi’s territory.

The one problem for Ameeta is to get Rahul Gandhi to canvas for her against cousin Varun. Will Sonia Gandhi be seen in Sultanpur, or not, is another question making the rounds as the Gandhi cousins remain close and uncritical of each other even if this is election time and even if they belong to two different political parties.

Baba Ramdev wants a BJP ticket to challenge Sonia in Rae Bareli while Narain Dutt Tiwari, 89 threatens to turn its back on the Congress for not giving him a ticket and to revive the Tiwari Congress!

Once made famous by Jawaharlal Nehru, country’s first Prime Minister today, the Phulpur constituency is fast becoming a BJP bastion.

DimpleAll eyes are on Kannauj as Dimple, pretty wife of UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav contests from there. In recent pre-poll surveys rating the performance of parliamentarians, the sitting MP scored 4.8, well below the average, getting 4.1 on accessibility and 4.4 on trustworthiness on a scale of 10.

Dimple’s attendance in parliament averaged 22 percent which is lowest after Jaya Prada at 39 percent and Rahul Gandhi at 43 percent. Dimple’s participation in debates too is lowest although data shows that the performance of UP parliamentarians in general is better than the national average.

If, given the opportunity, will Dimple improve her score is to be seen.

Father-in-law and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav contests from Azamgarh as a wall against the Modi wave blowing in the neighbouring constituency of Varanasi, and in the hope of grabbing a majority of the votes away from BJP, including that of the minority community of the entire poorvanchal or eastern UP region.

Actor Jaya Bachchan is expected to add to the excitement in Azamgarh when she goes canvassing for Mulayam Singh even as husband Amitabh Bachchan endorses Modi, making the game on the political playing field fair, in both love and war.

SP’s plays political chairs

Voters in Lucknow go to the polls on 30 April. In the past the city has propelled parliamentarians like Sheila Kaul, HN Bahuguna and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the country’s first and only BJP prime minister.

BJP president, Rajnath Singh will try to do a Vajpayee in Lucknow this election. It maybe recalled that Vajpayee now 90 years old and living a retired life in Delhi was most trusted by the city’s 20 per cent Muslims some of whom had recited the Koran at the BJP office once for his success at the polls. But as has been said before Rajnath is no Vajpayee but the former is seen as a more moderate and inclusive face of the BJP compared to Modi.

It is this same constituency of Muslim voters that SP honcho Mulayam Singh Yadav is trying to lure to his side. If a Brahmin like Vajpayee could be a Muslim favourite then why not the SP’s Ashok Bajpai, is the logic.

AbhishekNow Bajpai has been replaced by the SP with a more youthful Brahmin called Abhishek Mishra who won a stunning victory in the 2012 UP elections, from the Lucknow North constituency. A minister of state for Science and Technology in the Akhilesh Yadav government, the 37 year old Abhishek is the face of the future generation and of development explain those who know more at the SP head office in Lucknow.

But what the voter knows will only be revealed on 16 May once results to the 16th Lok Sabha results are made public.

Campaign without colour

The campaign of Bahujan Samajwad Party (BSP) head Mayawati, the state’s first Dalit and youngest chief minister is the most tranquil.

There are no celebrities picked up by Mayawati to contest on behalf of the BSP and yet she is said to be strategising in such a way that no government is allowed to emerge in Delhi after the elections without the participation of the BSP.

In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, the BSP contested all the 80 seats and won 21, the highest score ever since the regional party first participated in general elections in 1989, when it had contested 75 seats and won two.

This time the BSP fields Akbar Ahmad Dummpy from Gonda and the other known faces apart from Mayawati is that of SC Mishra and Nasimuddin Siddiqui who had lashed out at the SP government for practicing communal politics after some Hindu and Muslim residents of Muzaffarnagar could not be prevented from killing each other last August.

Some 40 people died in the bloody clashes and hundreds were injured in the same area where curfew was imposed. The communal riots got so out of hand that the army was deployed in the state for the first time in two decades to stop further killings.

Said Nasimuddin that while violence in Muzaffarnagar was on the government had remained mute spectator to it.

More of Bollywood for you

JavedBollywood actor comedian dancer and impressionist Jaaved Jaffrey will add to election time excitement in the city as he prepares to contest against BJP president Rajnath Singh on an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket. The Mumbai born Jaaved is son of famous comedian Jagdeep and he joined AAP last month.

The elections according to a cobbler, dhobhan and a zardoz

The 16th Lok Sabha election to be held this month is a salute to the uninterrupted practice of democracy in India. It is a matter of great pride for voters to return to the polls every five years to decide their future. But what difference has democracy and ideas of fraternity, freedom and liberty made to the life of most Indians since independence in 1947?

Staff Reporter Saira Mujtaba criss-crosses the city to find what voters from different walks of life have to say on the eve of the elections.

Lakshmi_Ranno_RaisaRanno, a 65 year old widow and Lakshmi, 52 are two washerwomen who expect nothing from the elections.

Yes, politicians have once again made the rounds of Ranno’s 10×10 feet house, built on a drain to make the usual promises. But nothing changes in her life.

“I have been running from pillar to post to get the BPL (Below Poverty Line) ration card but in vain,” says Ranno, who has a yellow ration card that does not allow her to buy subsidized goods.

She has filled the widow’s pension form but no pension so far for her. With her fingers deformed by leprosy, she has managed to get a physically challenged certificate and receives a pension of Rs 1800 per annum.

Ranno continues to earn her living from washing and ironing clothes despite her deformity.

Lakshmi’s tale is similar.

“The politician we voted to power is now blind, deaf and dumb as he does not consider my complaint for a BPL card,” says a disgusted Lakshmi.

For Raisa, 50 from the same neighbourhood it is a waste of her time to even complain.

“What is the use of complaining? No single political party or leader is sympathetic to the poor. I don’t expect any pension from the government. As long as my hands are willing to work, I will work and sustain my family of an ailing husband and five children,” says Raisa without hope.

Vijay Kumar, 30 sits under a roof of tattered cloth in a small corner of the road to diligently mending shoes. His teeth hang precariously from his gums as he chews on tobacco and paan (betel leaf).Vijay_Cobbler

Turning aside to spit out a dribble of paan juice before speaking, he says that he lives in a makeshift hut beside the railway tracks. His meagre earnings exceed not more than Rs 1000 a month, he does not believe he will ever have his own house in this lifetime.

He has a wife and two kids to look after. Whenever he has gone to the government offices to inquire about a government house, it has been a humiliating ordeal. Peons have pushed him aside and don’t allow him to meet the officials in charge. He is too disgusted at the ways of the government.

“My ‘illegal’ hut is uprooted but is it legal to push me to the brink of starvation? Is it legal to deny me my right to a home and a job?” questions Kumar with a blank expression, devoid of anger.

Asif Ali Muzaffar, zardoz and ex-Vice President Zardozi Union, is an angry man on the eve of the national elections. Together with other zarodozi workers he will boycott the elections as there is no assurance that their grievances will be attended to. His adept fingers clutch the needle in such a way that dexterously he makes beautiful patterns in gold and silver on velvet cloth stretched taut on an adda or wooden frame. But unlike the mesmerizing designs of zardozi, the life of a zardoz is bleak.

“The piece that is before you should fetch atleast 2 lakhs in Dubai where it will be exported but we are paid only 120 a day after working on it for eight hours every day,” says Mujeeb who adds that he is unable to send his children to a good school due to his paltry earning.

Zardozi is a laborious art form that is much in demand. Unfortunately, the zardozi workers are denied sharing of the profits made by big businessmen.

Athar Taqui, 24 year old zardoz works with his father, Taqi Miyan, and is simultaneously studying for a bachelor’s course in commerce.

The young man wants to break free from the shackles of poverty but his circumstances do not let him.

“I help my father but the returns are still low. I couldn’t pay my fees last year and had to repeat the class,” says Athar.

He wants middlemen removed from his profession and the craft made tax free.

If Asif Ali, Athar and over 2 lakh zardoz in Lucknow do boycott the elections, then that will be something. Together with their families, the zardoz share of the vote is about 10 lakhs. Since they are aware of their numerical power, they are demanding that loans be granted to them and subsidies and government schemes should benefit them similar to other weavers and artisans in the adjoining areas of Sitapur, Lakhimpur, Sultanpur, Hardoi and Sandila.

Bad business

Deepak_Makkhan_WalaDeepak Kashyap, 24, has been selling makhan at the chaotic intersection of Chowk near Gol Darwaza for the past half a decade.

He doesn’t really care which political party comes to power because he thinks they are all the same.

“Some are famous for being corrupt while some play the communal card, but none is really interested in the betterment of the poor,” he says.

Deepak, who will soon marry does not want his children to be in the same profession as his. “There is no certainty in our business. Makhan is sold only seasonally and for the rest of the year we sell other milk products like kulfi,” he says.

Election time is bad for business as when officials or politicians visit, the entire area is evacuated. He would like to vote for someone who is considerate to the plight of the poor, but that is like expecting a tiger to become vegetarian, mocks Deepak.

Mujeeb_PhoolwalaMujeeb, 60 ekes out a living by making sehras or strings of flowers worn by a bride and groom, and garlands in the legendary Chowk wali gali. He is utterly dispirited about the coming elections but will cast his vote as he does not want to waste his right.

“There is no unity between us phoolwalas and political leaders use these differences amongst us to their benefit. I vote not for a party but for the person contesting. The person known to us is likely to do good things for us whereas you can never tell with a total stranger,” says Mujeeb.

Concerns

SyrusCyrus Kharas is a concerned man in the wake of the upcoming elections. Belonging to the tiny Parsi community in Lucknow, Cyrus voices concern over a lack of governance.
“Not just the minority community but everyone expects good governance. The need of the hour is for better education and healthcare. Education is the vaccine for all kinds of violence. If the government can provide citizens quality education and healthcare, without discrimination then that is worth celebrating and in eradicating prejudices about the other.”

“This is the most distressing election time that I have witnessed. On one side there is the hypocritical left, and an aggressive right BJP, while on the other side we have the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a dishonest Congress. I am at my wit’s end. Who do I give my vote to?” says a visibly irritated Rakesh Chandra, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lucknow University.

He signs off by saying that all the political parties need to publicly accept and genuinely apologize for their sins before asking the people to vote for them.

Young urban professional Eveta Roy, 23 year old has lost all confidence in the country’s political parties.Eveta

She is sure that she will not vote for the Congress after all the scams it is involved in and the public money siphoned into the pockets of the corrupt.

“I do have hope from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Arvind Kejriwal but doubt if it will be able to run a government after the tragic fate of its Delhi Government,” she says.

Being a young urban professional, she wants better employment opportunities for the youth. She adds that the youth of the country wants employment and any government must create more avenues for the youth for the nation to progress.

David Yeoward, 20, second year student of B.Sc firmly believes that the fabric of an inclusive India should remain intact.

“If India is the biggest democracy then this should be reflected in every sphere. Being from a minority community, I should not be constantly afraid of being attacked by right wing forces that vandalise churches all over the country with the 2007 Kandhamal riots in Odisha relatively fresh in memory. Each party is tainted but I will vote for the one that has a secular outlook,” asserts David.

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