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From the sidelines of UP's poll battle
A Ganesh Nadar in Moradabad | April 30, 2007 20:13 IST
We were to go to Uttar Pradesh to cover the elections. So I decided to read up on the elections. The first bit of information that struck me was that a third of the candidates were facing several criminal cases.
The law would take its own course, a long course actually. On the other hand, the election results would be out on May 11, 2007. Wondered how many of these tainted candidates would win.
We took a flight from Mumbai to Delhi. Halfway through the flight, my colleague told me that he could still see the sea-coast. At this rate we would be in Karachi soon, I told him. But we landed in Delhi 45 minutes late.
Our colleague in Delhi advised us to go straight to Moradabad and not stay in Delhi. It wasn't that he did not want us around. A hotel in Moradabad would cost us only 25% of what it would cost in Delhi.
After the customary tea at the Press Club, we were on our way. For half of the way the road was very good. Then it gradually grew worse. We halted at a dhaba on the way and found it very expensive by Uttar Pradesh standards. Imagine paying Rs 30 for a plate of pakoras.
On reaching Moradabad, we found a hotel with a little effort. Our driver insisted that we find one that had a car park inside the compound. The hotel we stayed in was very famous for its marriage hall -- Taj Banquet. The next day a marriage party did turn up.
On the third morning, we were jolted awake at 4 am. In the other rooms, we could hear women screaming for combs, powder, and everything they needed to dress up for the marriage.
The next day we attended a Sonia Gandhi rally in Thakurdwar. The Congress party workers told us that the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate was the current legislator and he was famous for his strong-arm tactics.
Then they told us about the Congress candidate. He was a former Bahujan Samaj Party MLA. He had also contested twice on the Samajwadi Party ticket and lost. "It doesn't matter how many parties he changes, he has his own mass following here," they said.
The same evening BJP stalwart Lal Kishanchand Advani was to address a rally in Moradabad. He did not turn up because his helicopter broke down, but the bomb detection squad at the venue was very impressive.
Next day we met Irshad Hussain of the BSP. After giving us a long lecture about Samajwadi Party goons, he admitted candidly that he could mobilise his own party workers with one phone call.
We ate at one particular hotel opposite the station in Moradabad. The owner wanted to know whether we were from PTI. We told him that we were journalists from rediff.com and not from PTI. After that he insisted on knowing where we went everyday and fed us with gems of local wisdom on the places we visited.
We really missed him on polling day as he declared a holiday. For lunch, we had to eat half cooked vegetables in another not so good eatery.
We went to Bisauli about 60 km from Moradabad. On the way we realised that farmers were more interested in the harvest than in the elections.
Sugarcane and wheat were being harvested. Bisauli is a thriving township with two mobile towers. Here the BSP has put up a Brahmin candidate who is a political novice. Party workers, on the other hand, were seasoned veterans who told us, "We are prepared for anything and everthing."
On the day before polling, we met the Senior Superintendant of Police Ajay Anand. He told us that he was busy till 5 pm the next day and he would ensure peace. District Magistrate Pandhari Yadav has a field inside his official residence. He looked exhausted when we met him. He too promised us that polling would be peaceful and uneventful.
Polling day dawned. There were hardly any vehicles on the road. There were policemen everywhere. Heavily armed Central para-military forces were there in every booth.
Nobody could even dream about violence. We went from booth to booth. There were no long queues anywhere. But people came to vote throughout the day. It picked up after lunch. It was less than 50% in all areas.
We were sitting on the pavement opposite a polling booth in Mojolla East, a part of the Moradabad (West) constituency. A boy told his mother, "I am going to vote for the elephant (the BSP symbol). When an elephant walks, everyone moves out of the way." The mother replied, "Yes but don't forget if the elephant falls down, you will need a crane to pick it up."
Polling ended as peacefully as it started. All the cyber cafes we knew were closed for the day.
Our hotel owner Jiten was kind enough to offer us his own computer at the hotel. The next day we left for Delhi. We spent the time arguing with our driver. He was insisting that the car gave better mileage when he drove at 85 kmph.
We tried convincing him that it would give better mileage at 55 kmph. He wasn't willing to listen to us. After all he was from Kurukshetra.