Kasturi Chakraborty & Nikita Jain
As the Prime Minister towers over all his political rivals across the country, remote pockets of Jhajhar, Jewar, Muradnagar, and Bisada seem to be falling for the Modi euphoria. With national sentiment surging after the Pulwama attack and a dismantled opposition, an outcome that appeared uncertain a while back looks exceedingly likely – Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to win a second term.
Modi has become the only face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign that people look up to. Speaking to the correspondents, a resident of Jhajhar said, “We will vote for Modi and there’s no doubt about that. He has worked really hard for the country. Our full support is for kamal ka phool.” Even as villagers complain that lower level ministers have not even come to the vicinity of their village, they will still cast their votes in BJP’s favour only because it is “Modi’s party.”
With Gautam Budh Nagar and Ghaziabad Lok Sabha constituencies going to polls on 11 April, campaigning by each party has picked up steam in these two segments. Although in 2014, winning all eight seats of Uttar Pradesh was more or less a cakewalk for the saffron party, this time Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) alliance may give tough competition on a few seats.
However, Manoj Sharma, BJP worker in Muradnagar is confident that his party is going to win double the votes this year. “V.K. Singh (BJP candidate from Ghaziabad) will win more votes than last year. Congress has released an anti-nation manifesto. And the people of the country will give them their answer in the upcoming election,” he said.
When asked whether the gathbandhan will be a threat to the party in terms of elections, Sharma said that the alliance has, in turn, benefitted the BJP. “The truth is not all SP supporters will go for BSP and vice-versa. Workers from both the political parties cannot stand each other. So, their alliance has divided their voters and BJP will benefit out of it.”
On the other hand, SP-BSP coordinator Harish Chandra Goriya said, there has been no problem as far as the alliance is concerned. “The response we are getting from the people is good and the tie-up between both the parties has been a tremendous effort.”
Notwithstanding, the party worker bashed BJP’s sitting MP V.K. Singh and said, “He has not even visited this constituency in the past five years, but during elections he is conducting rallies and asking for votes. How can a person become so arrogant after winning that they do not show their faces?”
Congress, on the contrary, is confident about their Lok Sabha candidate, Dolly Sharma, who the party workers claim stood up for justice and has a fair chance, as she is educated and can connect with the youth.
Even as the voters swing towards Modi, no developmental work is visible in these remote areas. Speaking to the correspondents, Omkarnath, a resident of Muradnagar, who is a retired officer, hailed his support for the Prime Minister and said, “I will vote for Modi because he has kept the country together. The party never discriminates, but there are a few people who try to bring BJP in a bad light.”
However, Deepak, a potter belonging to Harola village, said that most of his family members are living on footpath from the past 32 years, and the condition has not changed.
“We have Aadhaar Card and we cast out vote every time but we haven’t got any benefit from the government. We don’t even have our Ration Card despite applying for it four years ago,” he said.
At the same time, he added that his vote will go to Modi as they have “faith in him.”
A 75-year-old farmer, Veer Narayan from Makandpur said, “Sarkar ne kuch nahi kiya hai par hum phir bhi Modi ko vote denge.“ (The government has not done anything, but we will still vote for Modi).
He added that the reason for his vote is that this government has removed corruption from the country.
Dharmendra, a resident of Bisada village in Dadri praised Modi and added that there is still a need for change in the country. He also said there are no basic amenities in this village and added, “In our Bisada village we don’t have access to the basic medical and education facilities. We have to go to Dadri for medical emergencies.”
Women were not ready to come forward and instead replied they will vote whoever their husbands go for.
Although local consensus says that crime has decreased since Akhilesh led the SP government, many claim that the crime rate is persistent. The alleys are still unsafe for women to walk as there are no streetlights, while robbery is on the rise.
Monica Sharma, a resident of Muradnagar told the correspondents, “Chori bohot hoti hai idhar, police ko bulane par bhi kabhi time pe nai aate. Iss area mein abhi toh chhote chhote lights hai. Pehle toh voi bhi nahi tha.” (Robbery is a prevalent issue here, while police never comes on time. The few lights that you see in the area were not there earlier.)
She added that they have to walk till Meerut Road and there is a poultry farm nearby where a number of murders have taken place so far. Bodies are dumped here like it’s nobody’s business and women are raped in the nearby Jalalpur road if they dare to go out in the evening.
According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, crime in Ghaziabad district has increased by 20.44% in 2016. In terms of violent crimes such as murder, rape, and kidnapping, the metropolitan city has been ranked 11th with 775 cases registered in 2016.
As the correspondents’ team visited the remote villages, an air of discomfort could be sensed within different communities, although people claimed they lived in harmony.
Bisada in Dadri is a small village where Muslims cover almost 25% of the total inhabitants living here. This is the same place where the 2015 mob lynching occurred. The 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq, an ironsmith was lynched to death by a mob of villagers, who claimed he stole and slaughtered a cow. It was later revealed in the investigation that the meat in his refrigerator was mutton and not cow meat.
The Hindus here mostly belong to the Rajput community and engage in farming. Before this incident, their lives were intertwined with the Muslims, who are mostly ironsmiths, barbers and carpenters. Even though they say all is well here, the communal tension is far too obvious in these meandering streets of Bisada village.
When asked the villagers about the incident most of them brushed it off, asking us to change the line of questioning. In one incident, we were bombarded with questions from a local youth who kept asking us why we wanted to visit Akhlaq’s house even suggesting that we go back.
However, an elderly, who didn’t want to be named, claimed that there has been no tension in the village since the incident.
“From our side there was nothing, but you never know if there is any tension on the mind of those people. But as of now, it is quite peaceful here,” said the elderly.
He stated that efforts were taken to ease the situation with local authorities visiting the families over time and comforting the family of the victim. However, the families have left and the three houses, belonging to Akhlaq and his brother, lay abandoned.
“It was few months after the incident that the daughter of their family got married, after that the whole family left.” Even when the villagers tried to reason and stop them, the family packed up and left the village.
“They had earlier said that they won’t leave the village but they did. Everyone told them whatever happened was in the past, and no matter how difficult, they should move past it,” said the elderly.
It is one burden that the whole village lives with. “, If only we could have stopped them,” he said. He said the incident was taken out of context; however, there is no denying that a grisly murder took place.
In another case, a Muslim chap refused to utter a word and instead directed the team to another Hindu man. Another Muslim old man asked the media to come after the elections as well to know their problems.
India as a multicultural society has always remained at the grasp of an exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion. While there are debates over a game of alliances, charismatic leaders and political stratagems, the sheer scale of the world’s largest election are likely to eclipse a lot of questions.
(The writers are journalists at The Sunday Guardian)