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The Rediff Election Special/A Ganesh Nadar in Sagar
November 27, 2003
Hotel Palash in Bhopal is owned by the Madhya Pradesh Tourist Development Corporation. So when the man at the reception assured us we could reach Bina, which is about 150 km away in two hours, we had no reason to doubt his word.
We were assigned to cover an election meeting addressed by Uma Bharti, the Bharatiya Janata Party's chief ministerial candidate, in Bina at 4.30 pm.
We left at 11 am hoping to reach the venue early and get a feel of the place before the meeting began. Though winter had set in, it was hot inside the Indica we were travelling in.
Traffic was heavy and we made slow progress within city limits. We hoped to make up when we hit the countryside.
But 10 kilometres outside Bhopal, the road began to deteriorate.
We had heard that the roads in Madhya Pradesh were bad, but this?!!
There were potholes everywhere. We had slowed down to a crawl.
Just when we thought it couldn't get worse, the road vanished into a pothole and never reappeared. Now we were hopping from one pothole to the next.
We reached Berasia and hoped the path ahead was better. But all we got was a mud track with wild vegetation all around. Not a soul in sight. Poles with electric wires completed the scenery.
A little further, the wires dropped out. Still further, even the poles disappeared.
We had just passed a small village, crawling up a small slope when we had a puncture.
Narayan, a local resident, came over and sat down near our car. He told us the road ahead was better but not by much. The roads were always bad but had completely broken down during this year's monsoon, he added.
We resumed our journey, progressing at 20 km an hour. When we reached the nearest town, Sironch, a policeman told us the roads would get four times worse. An autorickshaw driver advised us to fill up our petrol tank while another man told us to drive very slowly.
The base of metalled road comprises gravel. It seemed like in this particular section, the contractors had skipped the part about smoothening the surface with asphalt to enable movement of vehicles.
For 14 km the car rocked, rolled, jumped, slid, stopped, jerked, swayed but stubbornly continued to move forward.
We had stopped trying to figure out when we would reach Bina. As the sun prepared to set, we looked longingly at the mud tracks that led to small villages off the main road. They looked firm.
We managed to get off the gravel and onto what appeared like a road before it became dark. But the driver began to keep the car towards the edges, as the mud track was smoother than the so-called road.
In what can best be described as a miracle, we finally managed to reach Bina at 8.15 pm just as the organisers were pulling down the stage from where Uma Bharti had addressed the crowd minutes before.
A local BJP leader gave us the mobile number of a man named K K Gupta who was travelling with Uma Bharti. The BJP leader was scheduled to halt at Kurvai to address a meeting but he assured us we could not hope to catch up with her.
He suggested we try to meet Bharti at Sagar, 76 km away, where she would be spending the night. He wasn't forthcoming on the condition of the roads.
But we had learnt our lesson. We abandoned the car and boarded a train. Never before did we fully appreciate the invaluable nature of the service the Indian Railways provides. The simple second class compartment felt like heaven and the rhythmic sounds the train made was music to our ears.
We reached Sagar an hour-and-a-half later. An autorickshaw took us to the Circuit House, which is in the middle of an army cantonment. Not finding Uma Bharti there, we called Gupta who directed to another place nearby. We again boarded the autorickshaw.
It was 11 pm. There was a large crowd at the entrance. The police stopped us and examined our identity cards. Then they let us pass, pointing to a door.
Inside, our quarry sat in saffron.
Photographs: Jewella C Miranda. Image: Uday Kuckian