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We were in Moradabad. A small tour of the city, that day gave us an experience of everything that happens in the chaotic cities of North India—dust, smoke, potholed roads, traffic jams, and a lot of chaos. If anything was missing, it was brass. On the world map, this human settlement is known as India’s brass city. No one cares about the identity of which this city should be proud of. 

Suddenly, I started to think about Jamshedpur, the steel city. Jamsetji Nausherwanji Tata established it in 1907. Surrounded by plateaus, forests, and the banks of the river Suvarna Rekha, he developed this rugged land into an industrial city. Even today, one can feel his vision and think about it. Moradabad is almost as old as Jamshedpur. The first factory was set up here in 1915. Is the development of an industrial city not possible without a vision like Jamsetji’s?

Let’s look at Bhilai or Bokaro. Long ago, the government built these settlements. Despite the selfish interference of public representatives, their core spirit remains intact. There are examples where, due to the will of the politicians, even old and defeatured cities, become beautiful. Varanasi also belongs to the same state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose Kashi, or Kashi chose the Prime Minister, or both of them chose each other. But in the last seven years, this oldest city has changed dramatically. Similarly, chief minister Yogi Adityanath groomed Gorakhpur. Mulayam Singh Yadv did almost the same in Etawah, and Mayawati tried to change Noida. When these cities started changing, they kept on changing. But it’s unfortunate that Moradabad did not get any such leader.

Another example is the nearby city of Rampur. Azam Khan left no stone unturned to change it. His intentions may have been good, but some mistakes might have been made in over-enthusiasm. Today, he is in jail. A lot of demolition was needed to build the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, but the work was done in a smooth and coordinated manner. And one can see the result. The lesson of Kashi is that it is important to take people along, even for their own good. No such thing can be seen in Moradabad. There are many such cities in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand; Moradabad is just an example.

It is said that in a democracy, people choose the rulers they deserve. While walking through the streets of Moradabad, there is no longing among the people for their plight. They are happy with the conditions they have. Issues of religion and caste keep them busy. However, they keep saying that there are more than 2,500 brass factories in Moradabad, which export their produce to the world. There are also 39,000 small and medium-sized factories. These factories employ 300,000 people. About 400,000 people are also directly involved in the manufacturing and export of handicraft products. These numbers represent about half of the city’s population. But brass or handicrafts are not an election issue here.

In no way are these people associated with this industry and their families a satisfied lot. The pandemic has directly affected them. Before covid-19, there was an annual export of 9,000 crore from this city. It faltered along with the Indian economy, and despite all efforts to recover, it is still unable to exceed a turnover of 7,000 crore. The domestic business related to the brass industry is also worth about 6,000 crore. 

The brass of Moradabad is still a lucrative business, but the handloom of Meerut, zari of Bareilly, locks made in the narrow streets of Aligarh, petha of Agra, and other traditional local industries like these have been in deep trouble. A whole lot of people are dependent on these industries. They are ‘vote banks’, but no one talks about them. Why?

Perhaps, we Indians are content by nature. During this visit, I met those who became jobless and were forced to leave their place and craft. They are unhappy, want to change the situation, but do not want to get rid of the shackles of religion and caste while voting. They know that polls are the key to making a change, but they are reluctant to use them. They do not think they can use their economic status to change their social existence.

This is nothing less than a boon for the leaders. Instead of giving the report card, they find it easier to mislead them with slogans. Is it suicide for your political career to make the lives of others easier? I have asked this question many times, and each time, a confused silence is there before me. When will this confusion end?

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

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