Exactly two months from now, on March 11, the results for Uttar Pradesh will be declared. With over 200 million people, the state rivals the fifth-most populous country in the world. It holds India’s future – one in three Indians below the age of 14 lives in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
What is life like for its people and what shapes the political choices they make?
Over the next two months, Scroll.in will bring you glimpses from a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
On the road from Lucknow to Varanasi, 15 kms short of Jaunpur town, lies the village of Baksha. It is home to about 2,500 people.
One of its residents proudly declared: “What’s not there in Baksha? It has a block office, a post office, a railway station, a police station. The only thing that Baksha is not is a district.”
But pride is not enough to feed families. Nearly every family has sent away young men to work in distant towns and cities, with Mumbai being the favoured destination.
The latest upheaval for Baksha’s residents has come in the form of notebandi or demonetisation. In the first week of January, the village’s only bank was still running out of cash.
Meanwhile, preparations have quietly begun for the election. In the Brahmin quarter, a young man started the new year by organising an expedition to Lucknow for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
How did it go?
Anil Shukla reluctantly woke up early on the morning of January 2 and got into the back of a Bolero jeep.
It was 6 am. The village of Baksha was yet to stir to life.
Thick fog covered its homes, cow sheds, handpumps and newly constructed toilets – the brown and grey of brick, mud and metal blurring into the green and yellow of wheat and mustard fields.
Anil’s cousin Ajay Shukla, who was also in his mid-forties, was at the wheel of the jeep, but a young, wiry 20-year-old neighbour Vikas Chaurasia, better known as Vicky, was leading the expedition.
Vicky had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party two years ago and had risen rapidly to become one of its sector sanyojaks, or area coordinators, in Baksha block.
In the third week of December 2016, the party’s mandal adhyaksh, or block chief, organised a meeting where Vicky was assigned the task of mobilising and ferrying a busload of people to Lucknow, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to deliver a speech on the second day of 2017.
It was not easy to persuade the villagers to come.
People asked Vicky: “Kya milega?” What will we get?
His answer: “Dekho bhaiya kuch milega to denge zaroor hum. Raaste ki poori vyavastha hai, bhojan ki, dhumrapaan ki.” I will certainly share whatever I get. There are full arrangements for transport, food and a smoke.
A day before the rally, the bus did not materialise. Vicky hustled a jeep. From his own village, he could only persuade Anil to join – the driver came for the pay. Picking up five men from other villages, the group covered 220 kms in six hours.
In Lucknow, such was the scrum that they were forced to park the jeep three kilometres from the maidan where the rally was taking place. Another hour of walking through the crowds brought them inside the ground, where they sat down near a large screen – the closest view they could get of the stage.
But even before the prime minister could arrive, the group decided to head back. They did not want to risk getting caught in traffic snarls and evening fog on the highway. By 10 pm, they were back home.
Vicky had been given Rs 1,000 for the expedition – in old Rs 100 notes. He distributed them among his co-passengers. The future might bring gains but for now, dabbling in politics came at a cost. “On the return journey, twice I had to buy everybody tea from my own pocket,” he said.
Of the trip, what Anil Shukla remembers most fondly is the food served to the rally-goers 20 kms short of Lucknow.
“Buffer system tha,” he said. There was a buffet. People lined up and picked boxes of poori, sabzi and pickle.
But what about the rally?
“More than half the public was giving gaalis,” he said.
For what? To whom?
“Modi ji, who else. After all, he has ended the notes, not the bank managers, so what if they are the ones who are profiting from it.”
The night of November 8, when Modi announced demonetisation, Shukla had Rs 12,000 lying at home in old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. The 48-year-old waited ten days before going to the bank, in the hope that the crowds would grow thin. It still took him seven hours to deposit the notes. Withdrawing new notes was even tougher. “I queued up at 4 am,” he said. “My turn came at 6 pm. All I got was Rs 2,000.”
Shukla has an account in the State Bank of India’s branch in the nearby village of Nauperwa. But a majority of Baksha’s residents depend on the Kashi Gomti Samyut Gramin Bank, which, like other rural cooperative banks, has been acutely starved of currency.
In the first week of January, the bank was still handing out a maximum of Rs 2,000 per account per week. The assistant manager, BS Chauhan, said that the bank had collected old notes worth Rs 3.17 crore, but had received only Rs 87 lakh of new notes between November 11 and January 4. Spread over 26,000 accounts, this comes to Rs 335 per account. Even by the standards of Baksha, too little currency to go around.
Most people in the village live a precarious life. Almost every family has an adult male member working in faraway cities – even upper-caste Brahmins, who prefer doing hard labour in the anonymity of the city rather than under the gaze of their fellow villagers. Not everyone in the village owns land, and those who do have only small parcels. In the monsoon, people plant urad, and in the winter, wheat, potatoes and mustard.
Shukla owns four and a half bighas of land, or a little over an acre. Two of his three sons work in Mumbai. Last year, the family had sown wheat on their land in the first week of November. This time, with the cash crunch, the sowing spilled into December.
Elsewhere in the village, workers, both young and old, have come back home after losing their jobs in factories.
At the Lucknow rally, those waiting to hear Modi, exchanged stories of distress, said Shukla.
“Chote aadmi naaraaz hain.” The small people are angry.
So does this mean the BJP does not stand a chance in the coming elections?
Furrowing his brow, he said, “BJP will form the government, but not with a clear majority.”
Brahmins have a natural proclivity towards BJP, Vicky mused. He had grown up hearing elders praise the BJP, but vote for the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party, since the two regional parties stood a better chance to win.
In the 2012 assembly elections, for instance, most Brahmins of Baksha voted for the Samajwadi Party. “Mahaul tha Akhilesh ke liye,” explained Vicky. The sentiment was in favour of Akhilesh. Paras Nath Yadav, a Samajwadi Party veteran, was elected from Malhani, the assembly constituency in which Baksha falls.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Modi wave swept the region, drawing in voters from across caste groups. A first-time BJP candidate, Krishna Pratap Singh, won from the parliamentary constituency of Jaunpur.
For a young Brahmin boy like Vicky, coming of age in 2014 when the BJP was on the ascendant, joining the party was an astute move.
His brother had spent six years fixing tyre punctures in Mumbai, before saving enough to run his own puncture shop in the outer suburb of Vasai. Repulsed by the hard life of the city, Vicky looked for career options closer home. In 2014, soon after he joined first-year college, he walked into the office of an evening tabloid, Jaunpur Samachar, and got himself a job as a reporter.
“Humara udeshya tha naam. I wanted prestige,” he said, explaining his attraction to journalism. “If you go somewhere and introduce yourself as a journalist, at least you are offered a glass of water.”
As 2014 drew to a close, Vicky read about the BJP’s membership drive. “There is a party in China that has 11 crore members,” he said. “India has so many parties. But only Modi ji thought of breaking China’s record.”
Not only did he become a member in January 2015, he organised missed calls from 1,000 people – the party was using missed calls as a device to enrol members. In the summer of 2016, he deepened his ties with the party by attending an eight-day refresher camp of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which he believes is “the largest organisation in the world”.
Impressed with his work, party officials appointed him sector sanyojak to co-ordinate with the booth adhyakshs, or booth managers, of Baksha block. The election preparation began in August 2016. “In every booth, the party has formed a committee of 20 committed workers,” said Vicky. “Booth mazboot rahega to log prabhavit rahenge.” If the booth is strong, then people will remain under the party’s influence.
But the party still faces a challenge.
The workers of Malhani assembly constituency are organised in four blocks. Two blocks are headed by Brahmins, two by Thakurs. The same upper castes form the leadership of the sectors and the booths.
Under Vicky’s charge, for instance, are 13 booths. Brahmins manage eight, Thakurs and Yadavs one each, Mauryas, the backward caste to which the state president belongs, lead three, and Dalits head none.
“In an earlier list, we had picked two Harijans and one Kewat,” said Vicky. “But they were not working actively. They would lie often.”
Citing an instance, he said: “I called one of the Harijans and he said he was in Mumbai. When the call ended, I saw money had been deducted from my account for a local call, not an outstation one. Clearly he was lying.”
“These castes don’t like the BJP,” Vicky concluded.
So how will the party win Uttar Pradesh?
Not everyone is upset with notebandi. Many are impressed with Modi’s move, including a Yadav family. Their story in the next dispatch.