Ambedkar Nagar village, Kanpur: Mohammed Kaleem received his voter identity card a few months back. But unlike his friends in college, who are excited about casting their first vote, Kaleem wants to use his to register a protest. He will vote Nota on 30 April.
And he won’t be the only one in his village pressing that last button on the voting machine, the one that says None of the Above (Nota). The rest of Ambedkar Nagar village, all 300 families, have decided to protest similarly.
They are hoping that their collective protest will help focus political attention on their plight. For three decades, the village, located on the outskirts of Kanpur, has had to make do with little or no civic infrastructure.
Electric poles have been installed but there’s no electricity.
The waste yard at one end of the village is used by tanneries and other industrial units as a dump for industrial waste.
The sewerage is open and there is a mountain of garbage next to the village.
This is the first Indian general election where the Nota option has been made available to voters. In the Assembly elections held in November-December 2013, when Nota was introduced, it made an immediate impact. More than 15 lakh disgruntled voters exercised the option in the four states that went to the polls—49,730 in Delhi, around 3.56 lakh in Chhattisgarh, 5.9 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 5.67 lakh in Rajasthan.
Kaleem is angrier than the rest, on account of an appalling personal tragedy. “If there was a good road here, if we had a good hospital in our village or an ambulance service, I would not have lost my mother in my childhood,” he said.
Kaleem’s mother suddenly took ill in 1992; since there were no medical facilities she succumbed to her illness.
Rajeev Bhargava, senior fellow at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said that lot of people used to refrain from voting as they were not sufficiently motivated by any of the candidates. “By doing so, they did not exercise their citizenship right. The Nota gives those people a chance to exercise their voting right but still have an option of saying ‘no’ to the political parties or candidates available.”
But he cautioned: “No one should regret not casting their vote because it led to the victory of a party which they did not want.”
Ambedkar Nagar village falls in the Kanpur Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh that goes to polls on 30 April along with 88 other seats across the country. Known as the Leather City due to the presence of tanneries, Kanpur is represented by of the Congress party’s Sriprakash Jaiswal, who has been winning the seat since 1999 and is the coal minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.
In spite of its influential lawmaker, the village, like the rest of Kanpur, has not seen any major development in the last 10 years that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has been in power at the centre. Only 15.1% of the houses in the rural areas of the constituency have access to electricity; 73% do not have toilets; 27.2% households have no drainage; and only 12.4 % of the houses have been piped for drinking water, according to Census 2011 data.
The situation a decade back was no better. According to Census 2001, 14.9% houses had electricity, 80.3 % houses did not have sanitation facilities, and 30.2% did not have any waste-water outlets.
“Our village has witnessed several elders becoming bed-ridden after they fell into these ditches,” said Ali Hussain, a resident. “The waste disposal from the tanneries right behind our village also have made many of the villagers sick.”
Most days, the water supply runs for a mere 15 minutes. There are no borewell pumps here and many houses are not electrified, villagers said.
The city of Kanpur too has slumped. Once a thriving industrial centre dominated by state-owned undertakings, it is now defined by private tanneries. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, addressing a rally, said, “Once Kanpur was a textile producing city and products made in the city had ‘made in Kanpur-made in UP (Uttar Pradesh)’ written on them.”
The residents of Ambedkar Nagar village are not impressed —not with Gandhi’s speeches and not with his surprise visit two years ago.
“He came and sat here and promised he would help to solve our problems. But nothing happened,” Dhaniram, a rickshaw puller said.
“Every election, when the politicians come to us, we make our demands. There is no dearth of promises—they promise basic amenities, schools, hospitals, electricity, water and even new industrial units to give jobs for the youngsters. But nothing happens,” Hussain added.
The Kanpur Parliamentary constituency saw a turnout of only 39.5% in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, well below the national average of 56.97%.
No one here expects pressing the Nota button to make any difference to their lives. “We are small people and we can’t do anything about it. So we decided to vote on Nota as we don't feel like supporting any political party this time,” Ram Pyare Kureel, a resident said.