News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay  » News » 'Now China Is Afraid'

'Now China Is Afraid'

By Subhayan Chakraborty
May 04, 2024 17:28 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

'Ladakh will be dealt with in Modi's third term.'

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Even an hour before midnight, the Udhampur station is bustling with passengers. Adding to the hubbub is a large group of construction workers who are setting up a metal awning over the station's main entrance.

Located 70 kilometres from Jammu, the headquarters of the Indian Army's Northern Command is a jumbled mess of semi-paved roads and open sewers.

A major supply depot for the army, Udhampur station is now undergoing an upgrade.

Waiting to board the Andaman Express with his family, 36-year-old Rakesh Mahajan says he is happy with the improvements.

"Almost nothing had happened under previous governments. Now, everywhere you go, there is a sense of real development taking place," says Mahajan, who owns a small garment store in Mathura.

Though he feels that the Bharatiya Janata Party is doing a good job in Jammu and Kashmir, he is disappointed that the party has again fielded yesteryear actress Hema Malini from his hometown.

"She has been the MP for two terms now, but she still causes a stir whenever she visits the constituency," he says.


The Andaman Express, which starts at Katra in J&K and snakes through Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh before it comes to a halt in Chennai in Tamil Nadu, covers a distance of about 2,876 km in more than two days.

On the way, the talk often turns to politics. With elections around the corner, everyone has an opinion on who should win and who should not.

Jitendra Sambyal, a third-year student of engineering, gets on the train at Jammu.

He is on his way to Ludhiana to visit his grandmother. He does not need much coaxing to open up about who he will vote for in the upcoming elections.

"I will vote for the first time this year. And my vote will go to Narendra Modi. Just look at the number of Vande Bharat trains he has launched. In contrast, this train looks as if it needs a wash," he says.

Chamkaur Singh sprints back to a general coach after filling his water bottle at a small, nameless halt in Punjab.

A jawan in the Sikh Light Infantry, Singh is headed to Delhi to take up new forward posting orders for Assam.

Just short of a year into the job, he is excited about seeing the eastern part of the country. But he is not so excited about the BJP government at the Centre.

"Earlier, the government used to provide seating preferences to jawans returning from home to take up duty. But now one has to make one's arrangements," Singh says, jostling for space in the crowded coach.

However, his main grouse against the government is over the recently introduced Agniveer scheme.

"Who wants to join the Army for only four years? What about the financial security of the person's family once he retires? They are saying that you can reapply to continue in the service, but most will be asked to leave. This scheme has messed up the plans of many young men in my village," Singh says.

There are five general seating coaches on the Andaman Express. A group of four Nepali youth boards one of them in Delhi.

Hailing from villages near the Bengal-Sikkim border, the young men are going to Chennai.

Asked why they took such a long detour for their journey to Chennai, they claim it is impossible to get into unreserved coaches in trains from Bengal that are headed for the South.

"These days no one wants to work in Delhi or Uttar Pradesh. People in these parts look down upon those from the North East. Some of our friends have been beaten up. Contractors in Bengaluru or Chennai pay better and are fair," Tsering Sherpa says.

As the train reaches the outskirts of Nagpur the next morning, Vivek Deoghare, a retired bank officer, points to the tangle of newly built flyovers in the distance.

"Anywhere we go in India, people say that the roads have become much better under the BJP government. I feel proud to tell them that I come from Nagpur, the Lok Sabha seat of Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari," he says.

Part of a group of 35 people returning to Maharashtra after a visit to the Vaishno Devi, Deoghare declares that no one in his sleeper coach would dare say anything against the prime ,inister.

"Not that anyone will threaten them, but we should counter people when they spread fake narratives against the government," he hastens to add.

His wife Chandrabai offers an interesting take on the huge number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region. "Most of the deaths they register as suicides are fake," she says in a hushed voice.

"Often, when an old person in the family passes away, they slip a suicide note in his kurta and call the police. It's a well-known fact around here."

At Chandrapur, the train's last major halt in Maharashtra, hawkers selling pakoras made from soybean, an important local crop, board the train.

"Once the other rail line is completed, it will be much cheaper to bring crops into the cities. Soybean farmers have seen difficult times for a few years as the rains keep on wasting crops," 26-year-old Prakash Kunbi says.

The small patch of land where Kunbi's family grows the legumes has been mortgaged for a loan, he adds.

As the train enters Telangana, the soil changes colour and the hilly forests of Adilabad come into view.

In 2016, the erstwhile district was divided into four parts, with a major chunk becoming the Kumuram Bheem district, which was named after the Gond revolutionary who had rebelled against the Nizams of Hyderabad in the 1940s.

"That is about the only recognition that the tribals have got from the government here in the last 75 years. Three of the five assembly seats in Northern Telangana and the local parliamentary seat have been reserved for Gonds for many years, but little work has been done in the villages," says Suresh Vyam Gonda, a local school teacher travelling to nearby Karimnagar.

Gonda says that most members of his community are now split between the BJP, the party they had voted for in the 2019 general elections, and the Congress, which got a major leg-up in the state assembly elections late last year.

The hit Telugu movie RRR was based on the life of Kumuram Bheem, and hoardings to that effect have been put up by the BJP in the town of Kagaznagar, the largest in the district.

This is where retired Central Reserve Police Force constable Raju Naskar boards the train.

He refers to the thousands of Bengali refugees from Bangladesh who were settled in 10 camps in the Easgaon area bordering the town.

"At least 40,000 Bengalis are living in the area. Many of our youth are in the army and the paramilitary forces. We know the importance of serving the nation," he says, beaming at his nephew, who is on his way to Warangal to appear for a police recruitment exam.

While Naskar has deep respect for Indira Gandhi who personally saw the setting up of the refugee camps, he has no patience with the present Congress leadership.

"Our borders would be open to infiltration under the Congress, as they have been in Assam. Even a child knows that Modi stands for defending the country's borders. This Ladakh matter will be dealt with in Modi's third term. Now China is afraid," he avers.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Subhayan Chakraborty
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024