Mixed reviews in western Uttar Pradesh
Firozabad, 23 November 2011. Raj Pratap Sisodia is the prosperous young Thakur pradhan of Nagla Sikandra in the Tundla Assembly area. “We are very impressed by Anna Hazare’s campaign and the way he’s drawn attention to corruption — we would like corruption to be pulled out from the roots,” says Mr. Sisodia, “but it’s not that much of an election issue. What is an issue is high prices, and that is going to hurt the Congress.”
Indeed, as this correspondent travels through a vast swathe of western Uttar Pradesh, it becomes clear that while people are divided on the impact of Hazare’s campaign, depending on social background and occupation, virtually everyone feels high prices — mahangai — is a killer, and the blame is being laid on the door of the Central government.
The only exceptions are the sugarcane farmers in the districts close to Delhi: much like Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, they described ‘mahangai’ as a sign of ‘vikas’ (development).
A sizable number
There appear to be two reasons why the Hazare campaign is getting mixed reviews: one, the Muslims, who are a sizeable number in western Uttar Pradesh, are suspicious of both Mr. Hazare and yoga practitioner Baba Ramdev because they believe the two men are being sponsored by the BJP-RSS combine. “Muslims,” says Murtaza Iqbal, a writer and journalist in Moradabad, “see an RSS connection in the campaign, so they are staying away from it.”
Two, Hazare’s campaign — including his demand for a Jan Lokpal Bill — has greater resonance in the cities than in the villages. The ‘India Against Corruption’ has been active in cities: in Moradabad, this correspondent spots a banner announcing a Hazare event, held earlier this month.
‘Anna campaign destroyed Congress’
In Etah, Rajiv Kulsreshta, who runs a medical clinic in the heart of the district town says, “The Anna Hazare campaign has destroyed the Congress. A year ago, the Congress looked poised to do much better, but now that momentum’s gone.” In Aligarh, a well-known local journalist points out that a year ago, it looked as though the Congress might cross the 100 mark, perhaps touch 130, but it’s “mishandling of the Hazare issue” has laid it low: now, he says the party will be lucky if it touches 40.
In Agra, some Congress workers, too, say that the inept way the party’s leadership dealt with the Hazare issue and, especially the Lokpal Bill, has made people suspicious about the party’s intentions. “People don’t believe we are serious about dealing with corruption,” says a former Congress MLA here.
But in Bareilly, lawyer K.N. Sharma and his wife, who live in a traditional locality, where Hindus and Muslims co-exist peacefully, believe the Hazare campaign is “politically inspired.” And, interestingly, a Bania businessman in Agra, who is active in the Bahujan Samaj Party, says, “It’s an issue for the urban upper castes.”
In the village of Nawada, which falls in the Garhmukteshwar Assembly segment of the newly carved out Panchsheel district, jat pradhan Hameer Singh says Hazare is simply not an issue: “It’s the corruption of the Mayawati government that bothers us,” he says.
But there is near universal condemnation of high prices, both in the cities and villages with some even linking it to corruption. The only exception this correspondent comes across is in the Allahbarspur village in the Garhmukteshwar Assembly segment: Shafaqat Ali, a sugarcane farmer, says, “Development comes from high prices. We are sugarcane farmers — unless we get high prices, we can’t make profits and progress.” Clearly, the recent hike in the price of sugarcane has made him a happy man — and in this case grateful to Ms. Mayawati.
But where the Hazare campaign has succeeded is in creating contempt for all politicians: in Ratanpur village, not far from the Narora Nuclear Power Plant, Raguvir Dayal Sharma, a farmer says, “All politicians are corrupt. They have black money stashed abroad. Having an account abroad should be banned. Am I allowed to farm abroad?”
In the cities, among those who have been looking closely at the Hazare campaign, there is concern that contempt for the political class should not translate into a disenchantment with democracy. In Aligarh, Mir Arif, an upper middle class well-to-do businessman, laments, “All this has harmed not just the Congress, but the system. I hope it doesn’t shake people’s faith in the democratic system.”