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While going on the election journey to Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, I decided that I would not tell my readers the stories of party politics and caste alliances. Instead, Team Hindustan will take up issues from the corners where our democracy changes its course. There is a need for deep political and social discourse on such issues.

Let us start with Mathura. Mathura, Varanasi, and Amritsar are the three cities in North India that I consider to be siblings. These three cities have the charm of a distant past, and then there is religiosity. There is a duality of tradition and modernity, with some harsh truths hidden behind. The stories of the widows of Vrindavan shudder to the core. This cruel tradition is losing its grip, yet its remnants can be read in the wrinkles on the faces of the widows. Many women were sent to Kashi or Mathura as soon as they became widows. They do not have the freedom to live like ordinary women. A ‘mother’ said there was no support when she came to Vrindavan 50 years ago. Waking up at 3.30am, she used to take a bath and then sang bhajans in temples. There she used to get her morning meal and some money. Every evening getting a meal was an uphill task. With the continuous efforts of some voluntary organizations and the Supreme Court, their lives’ misery has been a little bit reduced.

During this election, you will not hear any discourse on the welfare of women, the elderly, and children. So is our democracy sitting on a shabby tripod of castes, religions, and regions?

While struggling with this question, I reached the birthplace of Lord Krishna, where both temples and mosques are under heavy deployment of security forces. Police and paramilitary forces keep an eye on every visitor there. But even such foolproof security arrangements cannot stop the conflict of ideas. There I met Gopeshwarnath Chaturvedi, a senior member of Shri Krishna Janmasthan Trust and Advocate Tanveer Ahmed, a member of the Shahi Masjid Idgah Committee. We had this meeting on the terrace of Shanti Dharamshala from where the temple stupa and the mosque’s dome can be seen together. They have been there for the last three hundred and fifty years. Both have seen many springs and autumns together. Is there strange weather knocking on the doors this time? It’s important to know since, after Ayodhya and Kashi, the issue of Mathura is being raised in some quarters. Chaturvedi was extremely aggressive. He said “we are the real owners of the land of this mosque, and we will free it". Tanveer was polite. Perhaps his profession has taught him rationality. He argued that they had legal rights over the mosque, but the matter was not resolved. Some disputes do not go away easily. Years ago, in the 1980s, when the Ayodhya movement was on fire, many people felt that it was not a big issue. We all know what the result of such thinking was.

In Mathura, there is no visible tension on the surface, at least for now. Radha Rani idols still put on hand-stitched clothes of Muslim artisans, all the paraphernalia of worship pass through the hands of Muslim artisans. Both the communities have a lot in common. It is so in Ayodhya even today. Will there be an action replay in Mathura? It isn’t possible to answer this question right now.

With this question, I went to some well-known faces of civil society. Some were clearly convinced that efforts were being made to change the atmosphere. We are apprehensive about this. While leaving this city, I was deeply displeased that even a week before the poll, the people of Mathura were not debating the issues facing the city.

The same is the case with Agra. The city is known for the Taj Mahal and a local sweetmeat Petha. A lot has already been said about the Taj, so I reached Noori Darwaza to know the condition of Petha. Business has halved. There is a heated debate about who can win from which seat, but there is no discussion about what the winners will do for this city. With the bleak markets, and a historic city desperate to move with the 21st century hunt, why are youths absent from the electoral narrative? This sorrow withered away to some extent in Karhal. Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) contests this constituency. The Bharatiya Janata Party fielded the Union minister of state for law, S.P. Singh Baghel, against him. Baghel was once a leader of the SP. The workers of SP say Akhilesh is beyond any competition. Baghel takes a jibe at this and says it is true, the record will be set, but it will be the defeat of the SP. A matter of cheer is that one could see green crops all around, once barren. Mainpuri district used to have the most barren land in the state. The irrigating work started in 2007. Today the result can be seen everywhere. Not only this, with good roads inside the villages and wide highways in the outer parts.

Hopefully, elections are fought on such noble achievements.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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