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September 29, 1999


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The Rediff Election Special/ A Ganesh Nadar

The village that refuses to vote

Among Mahona's natives are a governor, a chief justice who was also acting governor and a high court judge who went on to become Lok Ayukt. As if this is not enough we have the chairman of the bar council of Uttar Pradesh, a vice chancellor of the Kanpur University, a principal secretary to the prime minister of India and a professor of Allahabad University who have their origins here. The Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament from Itawah is married to a lady from this village.

In spite of all these heavyweights the village does not have an STD booth. In fact there are no phone lines here. Neither is there a high school or a hospital. Within the village there are no roads. Now that might be the case with a lot of villages in India. I firmly believe that India lives in its villages because there is no way out!

Other villages may just complain and bear it all. Not Mahona. The 15,000 voters of Mahona have decided that they will not vote. And the national and international media have descended in droves here.

No phones, no schools, no hospitals and no roads -- and Mahona happens to be in the prime minister's constituency!

Mahona is only 23 km from Lucknow. It is the only rural segment in the Lucknow Lok Sabha constituency, the rest are part of the city.

Mustaffa Ali Qureshi used to work in a paratha stall in Lucknow. Now he is relaxing in Mahona. He told me that BJP MLA Gomti Yadav comes here once every three months to meet his party workers. He never does anything else. Twice, Bhagwati Singh of the Samajwadi Party was their MLA. He even became a minister, but he too failed to do anything for Mahona.

"The only thing Bhagwati Singh did was to have Mahona declared a town panchayat," said Qureshi with a trace of anger. Another villager remarked: "We lost our hospital because of him." A fat man started shouting: "Mulayam announced a hospital. Vajpayee also announced it in the presence of (then governor) Motilal Vora. When it came, they shifted it to Gonda." It seems the health minister shifted it to his constituency.

A young man sat down beside me. "You know our town chairman Ram Avatar's son was sick last night at 2 am. We took him to Itaunja by tricycle and from there in an autorickshaw. The boy is only seven years old, we were lucky to reach the hospital before something drastic happened. Last month a woman was taken in a cart to Lucknow while she was having labour pains. The baby was born and died in the cart on the way." He was not sad but angry at their plight.

Pappu the barber earns Rs 50 a day and pays Rs 200 as rent for his shop. "Shiela Kaul was also our MP and minister but again we did not get anything. Now we won't vote unless we get a high school, college, hospital, and factory and a block development office."

According to the villagers, Mahona is the largest segment of the Lucknow constituency. An old man compared the five assembly constituencies to five children. "Four are their own children and the fifth is a step child." Wajuddin, an attendant in a shop, added, "there is no business and no work. Our children are becoming gamblers and drunkards." There was a big banner across the road which said. 'No work, No vote.' There were black flags atop many houses.

Twice a week there is a market mela in Mahona. We are here on a Sunday and the market is bustling. You can buy rice, vegetables, dal and whatever you need very cheap today. Rice was selling at Rs 10 a kilogram. Milk is also Rs 10 a litre. One woman bought half a kilo of rice. Every Sunday there is also something more important these days. There is a meeting of the election boycott committee. Everybody participates in this meeting.

Aliya Bux is also called Dargahi. He is a member of the Samajwadi Party. He complains, "The chairman was a Samajwadi Party candidate, we made him win and now he has joined the BJP. The last time our village received any money was during governor's rule. Motilal Vora gave us one million rupees and some roads were laid."

The lifeblood of any village is water. So I went to see the canal which is supposed to supply water for its agricultural needs. We went part of the way by car and walked the rest. When we were leaving I asked two of the villagers to come in the car with me. One of them was pulling the door to open it, he did not know you had to press the knob to open the door. Later enquiries revealed that the village had no cars. There were two-wheelers, a tractor and a lorry.

The canal was clogged and dry. The villagers said there was water only during the rains. In 1980 the government had dug a tubewell for them and put pipes to water their fields. The pipelines have since choked and are beyond repair.

They generally have one crop a year and that too during the monsoon. Three out of ten fields have their own tubewells and they can have three crops a year. Not dependent on the vagaries of the state electricity board these farmers have diesel motors.

From the field we went into the village. I noticed that the electricity lines were peculiar. There were two lines and the bottom line had bricks strung from it in a line. I asked why. They laughed. ''That is to prevent the two wires from touching.'' I was shocked.

The village had one hand pump. The water was delicious. There were no roads at all. It had rained earlier in the day and so the path was slushy. ''It is horrible in the monsoon,'' they said. I found a lot of buffaloes, cows and horses in the village and they certainly didn't seem to be starving.

Farm labourers here earn Rs 20 for 8 hours work while the women Rs 15. According to the men the last mud road here was laid in 1992. The women were shy when I first went in, but later they came out to be photographed. A line of buffaloes were being fed together. The place was very dirty. ''A breeding place for malaria," said a villager.

I was surprised. He was delighted to see me shocked. ''Malaria, yes malaria,'' he repeated. Back in the town square the boycott meeting had started. Earlier, they had held a black flag rally for the benefit of the television cameras. "We started late because we could not find a mike. See the stage is only a table. We don't have money for a big pandal. All we have is our will," declared the thin speaker. "We demand a school, a college, a hospital and a block development office. We will vote only if all these are made available by the 3rd which is not possible. Therefore we will not vote,'' he continued.

An old man besides me said, ''Here there are Yadavs, Chamars, Paasi, a few Brahmins and Thakurs. Development is done only where there are a lot of Thakurs.'' Unlike politicians all the speakers spoke briefly. All of them ended their speech with a 'Jai Hind' and 'Jai Bharat'.

The UCO Bank has a branch here. A man explained to me that the primary school was still working but the middle school had fallen down and so they were doing it in shifts. The girls school building was donated by the Mishra family. That too has fallen down. The primary health centre not to be left behind has also fallen down.

The next speaker was from the Kisan Sangh. He started with, ''All politicians and all parties are thugs, we have 5,000 members here and we will do everything to protect you if somebody tries anything on polling day.''

Another speaker declared Mahona would be an example for the rest of the villages in the country to follow. Then he quoted a couplet: ''Bin hawa na patha hiltha, bin ladai na maange miltha.''

The meeting went on and I decided to go back into the village. You know there are various types of mud. Some rich and others poor. The huts in Mahona were made of mud, the poorest quality of mud that mother nature could provide. The roof was made of straw, intertwined straw that looked old, very old. I am sure they could afford the straw, but what about the labour involved, that they could not pay. The roof will keep out the sun, but not the rain.

What hits you is the innocence of the villagers. They do not know how poor they are. In fact they do not know there is another life where there are schools, colleges and careers. It's that innocence you see, feel and cry and curse the powers who could do something, but don't, won't. One villager put it exquisitely, ''One stroke of his pen and this would be heaven but Vajpayee does not have the time or the inclination.''

The Rediff Election Specials

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