In 2014, the BJP won 71 seats in the state alone, with an additional two seats secured by NDA alliance, gaining its dominance in the Lok Sabha in Uttar Pradesh.
With 80 Lok Sabha seats out of 543, Uttar Pradesh is indisputably one of India’s most politically charged, vibrant and opinionated states. In 2014, the BJP won 71 seats in the state alone, with an additional two seats secured by NDA alliance, gaining its dominance in the Lok Sabha. Since then, UP has seen BJP’s performance in different areas in the state.
I wanted to go to the areas where mainstream media doesn’t penetrate unless there is a big story or a political rally. I have grown up only in urban areas and a good chunk of it has been overseas.
As a millennial and a young reporter, I wanted to understand people’s situations, issues and realities in areas I have never been exposed to. I wanted to know why people were casting their vote for one party or the other. I wanted to know the ground realities of tier 2 and tier 3 cities and towns of India that remained largely away from the limelight of the media.
With my trusted team of two cameramen, one director and video editor, and one intern, I mapped out our route: Lucknow, Amethi, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur and Varanasi. We all packed our suitcases and equipment in a rickety tempo and hit the road with the aim of understanding the pulse of the people in the state. Here is a vlog of our ground reporting.
We reached Lucknow in the afternoon. The sun was setting as we made our way from the airport to the hotel. Our hotel concierge informed us that the city was about to come alive in the evening and we should freshen up quickly. We hurriedly refreshed in our rooms and with our equipment, piled into an Uber to explore the city in the evening. The city was ALIVE with energy. Of course, night plans centred around the infamous ‘chaat’ Lucknow had to offer. We headed to Royal Café, one of Lucknow’s most famous eateries in Hazratganj. Not only was the place packed with people, but it buzzed with political energy. People waited for their ‘basket chaat’ and bantered loudly about what PM Modi had said during his rally. I joined in the ‘chaat pe charcha’ and political banter. Here is what people had to say!
The next day, we visited the Rumi Darwaza of ‘Nawabo ki Sheher’ area. It was my first time exploring Lucknow, and my team was impressed with the incredible infrastructure, roads and cleanliness of the place. I wondered when this infrastructure and development had taken place. I started asking the locals if this progress had taken place under PM Narendra Modi’s NDA-BJP government. The answers came from people of all backgrounds and ages. And the response was overwhelming. Locals had actually seen change and transformation take place. They described it well.
Before we left Lucknow, I was able to speak to BJP General Secretary Uttar Pradesh and MLA Pankaj Singh about elections and development in the city. He explained that over the past five years, connectivity has increased, underground cabling and airport expansion has taken place. Projects that had been approved under Atalji’s government were stalled by the previous SP government and picked up again when BJP came to power in the State. Singh also explained the importance of developing the Charbagh Railway Station which served as a critical transportation hub for Lucknow locals. These developments have improved citizens’ ease of living and quality of life. MLA Singh also talks about some of the plans the area can look forward to in the next five years should the BJP come back into power.
When we left the city of Lucknow to head towards Rahul Gandhi’s constituency, we were greeted by a massive traffic jam in Amethi. I’m talking hours and hours of honking, stopping and waiting. So much so that we left our tempo in the jam and jumped out to do our work. A few hours later, we found our tempo had only moved one meter ahead and the driver was comfortably taking a nap. Couldn’t blame him! Now, with this being Rahul Gandhi’s constituency, I was curious to know what people thought of him. Here is what the locals of Amethi had to say. And boy, were they angry!
More than that, a significant amount of people spoke about inaccessibility to the hospital. I got to know that the hospital was only about 200 meters away from where I was. Since there was no way for even a motorcycle to get through to the hospital, our team walked there to document the issues going on. I saw that the road was so narrow and so congested that it was impossible for an ambulance to reach there. I even saw an ambulance getting stuck. When I walked to the hospital, the conditions were absolutely dismal. People were incredibly frustrated by the lack of treatment. They told us people die frequently because of a lack of care. No doctors come. And when you see the inside of the hospital, cleanliness was out of the question.
Despite the concerning issues Amethi faced, I asked the people who they felt the next PM should be. I was curious whether they would give their vote to Congress or the BJP since it seemed that Amethi, despite being a VIP constituency, was forgotten about by Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party. When I asked the question and other people overheard passionate responses, a mob formed to voice their opinion. People wanted change. People were inspired by the development and progress.
I was personally very excited to hit Ayodhya. It holds such a rich cultural history and goes back to ancient times. And my interest in politics also got me excited to talk about the Ayodhya dispute with the locals. Should the temple be built, or should it not be built? What did people think? I spoke to as many people as I could: the visitors, the shopkeepers as well as some of the priests.
The people expressed that a lot of effort towards better sanitation and infrastructure had been made by the NDA-BJP under PM Modi. They were also highly sceptical of Congress’ Nyay scheme which provides a minimum income guarantee of Rs 6000 per month. “What are we, fools to believe them?” locals told me. Check out the reactions.
My love for animals made me convince my team to turn the tempo towards a ‘gaushala,’ or cow shelter. The one we headed to was located in one of the region’s most thriving religious hubs; the Gorakhnath Mandir. To add to that, the temple also had a robust political history. The cow-tenders mentioned that CM Yogi Adityanath personally visited the place often to take care of the cows. After getting my animal fix by playing with the cows, we headed to Nauka Vihar; a popular hangout spot in Gorakhpur. It was actually really cool!
I was surprised to see SO many millennials and young adults there despite it being a weeknight. I walked around to ask them which candidate they supported as a PM. These millennials told us they had seen progress first-hand under Yogi Adityanath and wanted more. Rightfully so, in my opinion They carried immense energy and hope which inspired me and my team. This was one of the coolest nights for the entire team of the trip. We literally slept that night with energized smiles on our faces. Watch the video; I guarantee you will smile yourself.
A Disconnect with Priyanka Gandhi
As my intern also pointed out in his article, a pattern I found while talking to people was a serious disconnect with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. It perplexed me because Mrs Vadra is aggressively campaigning in and around Uttar Pradesh. People pointed out that she had always campaigned for her family and her entry into politics was unsurprising and uninspiring. Hear Gorakhpur’s youth describe their disconnect with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Last Stop: VARANASI!
WOW. Simply WOW! This was my reaction to Varanasi. And in the most splendid way. Our team arrived in Varanasi, completely exhausted. PM Modi’s mega-roadshow was about to take place in the afternoon and the heat was tremendous. Before that, we wanted to get an honest pulse of what people thought and to see first-hand, some of the infrastructure and development that had taken place on the ghats.
Upon reaching the Dashashwamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat, I had wished I had bought a change of clothes. The water of the Ganga River looked so refreshing! In the heat, it looked enticing and I was jealous of the people jumping in and taking a dip! The other thing I noticed was the ground. Not one piece of litter! Maybe it was because the PM was supposed to come that day. I asked around if it was always this clean or if this was a special occasion that the Ghat had been cleaned for. I also asked what other development had been going on in Varanasi. This was the answer.
And then of course there was the MEGA-roadshow…...and MEGA was an understatement. There were not just waves, but a TSUNAMI of people that waited for hours in the intense heat to catch a glimpse of the leader of the nation. That same day, Priyanka Gandhi announced that she would not be contesting from Varanasi. The people responded to this as well, seeing it as cowardice and concession by the Congress Party.
This video captures the spirit and vibe of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency. I was honoured to be able to see it for myself and cover it!
During this tour of Uttar Pradesh, I spoke to people from all walks of life, and all ages. The political energy of the General Elections brought us together and connected us for a few moments of interaction. And those interactions were honest as they came from people’s hearts. In a brief snapshot, they shared a part of their life with me, and I feel privileged that they did. The people of U.P. have seen the transformation in the form of positive development over the past five years. They want a leader who brings these changes and connects with them. They are inspired by a leader who does not promise fake waivers and temporary fixes to solutions. They are furious at bribes just given out by the Congress party for votes.
My biggest takeaway is that the mindset and ideology of citizens are changing. This is crucial to building a New India. They are willing to choose a leader that delivers a holistic change rather than a temporary waiver in exchange for a vote. They understand and refuse bribes. Even if it takes a bit longer, people are ready to wait for the positive development to happen.
Priyanka Deo is an executive producer and anchor at New India Junction. She holds Masters' Degrees from Harvard, the University of Southern California and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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Last Updated May 3, 2019, 5:11 PM IST