(Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
(Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Mint in the heartland: It’s not a Modi wave all the way

The road to Raisina Hill must travel through the Hindi heartland, where some of the most bitter political battles are being fought. Mint’s Suneera Tandon and Lata Jha will criss-cross the region to discover the New India in this election season.

Suneera Tandon and Lata Jha's dispatches will also be published in Mint. They are on a whirlwind tour across states mapping the 2019 election.

Also read dispatches from other Mint staffers who are crisscrossing the country mapping the 2019 elections - Southern states, Mahatma trail.

11 Apr 2019, 06:57:43 PM IST

It’s not a Modi wave all the way

Ghaziabad/Noida: It is not even 10 am at a voter registration booth in Indirapuram—a residential catchment of Ghaziabad—on the first day, and phase—of polling in what is to be the world’s largest elections. A swarm of local residents have queued up in the early hours of the morning to vote at a local school in the area. But at a registration centre 100 meters away from the location, some who failed to find their names on the voter registration list are walking away unhappy.

“A lot of our Muslim and low caste supporters are being turned away, and we don’t know what to do," said Preeti Chaubey, a Samajwadi Party worker who said she was trying to get their names back on the electoral list. Chaubey was accompanied by co-worker Naeem Ahmad, who said that 22 members of his family couldn’t find their names on the list and were keen to vote.

“This is like murdering democracy," Chaubey said.

The UP constituencies of Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar will see close to 50 lakh voters, according to a news report by the Times of India, turn out in the first phase of polling for India’s 17th Lok Sabha elections that began on April 11. Of these, 1.8 lakh are first timers and in all, eight Lok Sabha seats are up for grabs in Uttar Pradesh in the first leg of the seven-phased electoral exercise.

In these two constituencies, the fate of two sitting union ministers, former general VK Singh and Mahesh Sharma will be decided.

In Ghaziabad, Singh is pitted against a strong SP-BSP-RLD-led alliance, along with Dolly Singh of the Congress party. In Gautam Buddh Nagar, Sharma is fighting against Arvind Singh of the Congress, and the BSP’s Satveer Nagar.

Between 10 am and 1 pm, a large voter turnout was visible in parts of Ghaziabad and Noida. Families and first-time voters showed up on bikes and cars or simply walked in to cast their vote. Outside polling booths, in quiet residential colonies, enthused voters gathered in groups to click selfies with their inked fingers.

H. Chilwal, 43, who works as an IT consultant in Noida, says the decision to pick a party was “simple". “It is Modi, there is no doubt," said Chilwal, accompanied by his wife, who nodded in agreement. “It isn’t about any political party but about a leader who can lead the country, and there is no one apart from Modi," Chilwal added after casting his vote in one of the many polling booths in Ghaziabad’s Vaishali area.

For 30-year-old actress Swati Tarar, who has flown in from Mumbai to Delhi to vote in her hometown—loyalties remain intact. Tarar, who voted for the BJP in 2014, said she is set to cast her vote again for the party. “I’ve seen a lot of development in this area," said Tarar, emphasizing that access to public transport and development in infrastructure has helped the BJP cause.

Over the last decade, real-estate projects have proliferated in the once defunct pockets of Ghaziabad that now has multiple housing societies. This has also been accompanied by civic measures to improve living conditions in the city. In 2018, it was ranked the cleanest district in Uttar Pradesh, and the 11th cleanest in India. In fact, several voters spoke of the change they see around them, especially in the wake of the Swachh Bharat movement.

Like Tarar and Chilwal, many women are upbeat about the work the BJP, and specifically Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has done in these five years -- from roads (the Delhi-Meerut expressway became operational in early 2018), utilities (several people spoke of toilets being constructed in Noida), better schools and radical policies like Jan Dhan, Ujjwala and demonetization. There is also a sense of India gaining better standing in the global arena.

However, for some, the BJP is not that obvious an option.

Pradeep Singh Negi, 25, a lawyer practicing at the Delhi High Court, says he is voting for change this time around. Negi has shifted allegiance from the BJP to the SP-BSP-RLD-led alliance. “Ground level development work has been missing in Ghaziabad over the last few years," Negi, a resident of Indirapuram, said. “It is unsafe, and the local leader rarely makes an appearance to address civic issues," he added.

Nikita Vasudeva, 29, who turned up to vote at a polling station in Noida, agrees. “I’m not really looking at this in terms of a leader who would lead the country but a representative who would work for my constituency where robberies are rampant, alcoholics abound and it’s tough to step out of the house after 10 pm," she said.

Ashish and Shweta Sanger, a couple in their late 20s, residing in Vaishali, are keen on change too. “Policies like demonetization were sudden and lacked concrete alternatives. Benefits of the present government’s schemes have trickled down to either the lower or the upper crust of society and the middle class is sandwiched in between," they said. The couple planned to vote for the Congress, though they didn’t have a specific leader in mind as PM.

Despite some detractors, the BJP, and specifically support for Modi, was hard to miss on the first day of polling.

“Some 25 entities have come together to fight one man. What else can we say?" said Rajni Rawat, a 29-year-old homemaker in Indirapuram. “We've tried to come out in huge numbers because 25-30 years from now, we should be able to tell our kids we played a role at this important juncture in our nation’s history."

Get latest election news and live updates on Elections 2019 here.

(Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
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