After spending nearly two months in Uttar Pradesh for election-related work for my party, I took a flight back from Lucknow to New Delhi. The contrast between the airports of the national capital and the capital of India’s most populous state is stark. Delhi now prides itself in having one of the biggest and glitziest airports in the world. In comparison, Lucknow airport looks like how Delhi’s used to be about three or four decades ago.

One part of our country is now racing past the First World. Another part, exemplified by UP (minus Noida and Ghaziabad, which are now part of Greater Delhi), is still struggling to shed the Third World tag. However, this visual contrast between the two havaai addas doesn’t reveal the full truth about the metaphorical contrast between “India” and “Bharat”. For that, you have to visit the bus addas of the towns and cities in UP, and also travel by the state’s government-run buses.

The horrific state of public transport in UP will make you realise that a large part of its population is condemned to live in conditions comparable to LDCs (Least Developed Countries) in Africa. This conclusion is reinforced by other development parameters—severely inadequate power supply, government-run schools and hospitals that are in a state of collapse, poor sanitation, non-existent sewage system, the consequent pollution of rivers including the Holy Ganga and Yamuna, etc.

In almost all the places that I visited, I made it a point to go to the bus adda. The experience was depressing beyond description. Overcrowded. Chaotic. Full of stench. Public toilets are few in number and ill-maintained. Next to no amenities for passengers, many of whom have to squat on the ground. This is the condition not only in smaller towns but even in cities like Kanpur, Jhansi, Bareilly and Aligarh.

Most buses in the road transport fleet are in a pathetic state. As a result, common people are forced to travel on privately run tempos that defy every measure of passenger density and violate all norms of passenger safety. Although roads have improved on some stretches, they are dangerously cratered on many others. Not surprisingly, deaths due to road accidents are the highest in UP.

One day I travelled from Agra to Aligarh, a distance of 90 kilometres, and back. It took me four hours each way. Both times we were caught in a traffic jam for half-hour at the railway crossing, because something as basic as a railway over-bridge has not been constructed on a road that connects two globally known cities in UP. There are no railway over-bridges even in the biggest city in state, Kanpur, which typifies both UP’s de-industrialisation and its urban degradation.

What is evident in UP, and in other Indian states as well, is how the rich and the powerful, backed by the government, seek to improve living conditions for themselves by ignoring, and often at the expense of, the needs of the poor and the middle classes. One only has to look at the stark inequity in the planning and use of urban land, a public resource that is being privatised and colonised at an alarming rate. Real estate development—the biggest source of corruption, black money and political funding—is completely skewed in favour of the demands of the rich.

As in Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian cities, hideous hoardings advertising private housing projects for the local rich disfigure the urban landscape in UP. The political and government establishments show no concern whatsoever for the integrated, aesthetic and scientifically planned development of housing and public amenities for the benefit of all sections of society. Why have we come to tolerate so much squalour and ugliness in the land of Taj Mahal?

The physical indicators of UP’s poverty and picchadapan (backwardness) are less worrying than—indeed, they are the consequence of—the poverty of values and vision of its political establishment. UP’s misfortune is that its politics has come to be dominated by short-sighted, family-centred, and caste—and community-oriented political leaders who are incapable of looking at the needs of UP holistically and in a long-term manner. And politics is such an assuredly corrupting profession that, if you and your organisation are not solidly and uncompromisingly pro-poor in ideology, policies and practice, you end up being pro-rich.

You manipulate to get the votes of the majority class, but in effect serve as a representative of the ruling elite class. For you have yourself become a part of this class, irrespective of whether you are a Brahmin, a Muslim, a Yadav or a Dalit.

You may mouth the slogans of ‘inclusive development’ and ‘garibi hatao’ (Congress), Pandit Deendayal Upadhayaya’s ‘antyodaya’ (BJP, my party), Dr Ram Manohar Lohia’s ‘socialism’ (Samajwadi Party) and Kanshi Ram’s ‘bahujan/sarvajan hitaya’, but you essentially prioritise the wants of the ‘havaai adda’ class over the pressing needs of the ‘bus adda’ class. You forget that all development that pays lip service to the problems of the aam aadmi is fake development, faulty and unsustainable.

What UP needs—and indeed what all of India needs—is de-pollution of its politics. It needs honest, incorruptible, ethically guided and dynamically capable public servants who genuinely feel, care and work for the poor within a broader matrix of integral development. With high voter turnout affirming the people’s unshakeable faith in the democratic process, any party or coalition that comes to power in Lucknow next week has a duty to promote this new kind of politics that is clean, corruption-free and rises above caste and communal considerations.

-Indian Express
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