Debating India

VIP CONSTITUENCIES

Fiefdooms

Soma Wadhwa

Monday 12 April 2004, by WADHWA*Soma

Outlook takes a look at nine ’elite’ seats from where their highnesses have returned again and again to Parliament, and fails to see why

They come, they campaign, they conquer. We arm them with our votes, play soldiers to their victory. Yet, after the dust and drama of the war for votes settles, our allegiances remain unrequited. And we are left alone by them, our rulers, to the battle of daily life.

But how does one measure the quality of rule, or misrule, of those we elect into Parliament? Constituencies are strange statistical entities, smaller than districts, a composite of two districts or its parts, an amalgam of blocks, villages, towns, cities: census numbers, then, can hardly compute the worth of a constituency’s governance.

So, Outlook’s correspondents fanned out across the country. And visited the constituencies of some of the most prominent among our Members of Parliament. Leaders who are headline highlights, star sound bites. Those who have conquered their constituencies many times over.

To assess what those whom we vote into power have done to better our lives. What did we discover? Lack of accountability....

Lucknow

"Decorating the city doesn’t fill anyone’s stomach," says rickshaw-puller Babulal of Vajpayee’s Lucknow.

Atal Behari Vajpayee (BJP)

Won from Lucknow: 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999. Votes for Vajpayee: 48.11 per cent (last polls)

-  Drinking water is in short supply and sometimes contaminated

-  Sewage produced is 400 MLD, sewage treated is only 42 MLD

-  Lucknow has over 600 slums

- The Gomti at Lucknow is so polluted that even fish cannot survive

Lucknow, the PM’s constituency, may hold the world record for the number of foundation stones for stillborn projects. Some of the foundation stones, too, are now crumbling. Meanwhile, the Lucknowite struggles for basic amenities like potable water, public transport and electricity.

Yet, on the face of it, Lucknow shines. Towering lamp posts, neat tarmac roads, lush green lawns. A casual visitor may be impressed, but for the Lucknowite, the city’s squalor remains untouched. "Decorating the city doesn’t fill anyone’s stomach, what has he done for the poor?" asks rickshaw-puller Babulal.

Close to BPJ strongman Lalji Tandon’s residence, in old Lucknow, the stench and filth is unbearable. "Had we an option, we wouldn’t have lived like dogs," says Madan Kumar, a slum-dweller in Baidantola, Mojamnagar. "Look for yourself at the dirty muddy water that we drink," says Rabbo Fatima.

An ambitious slum-dweller resettlement project, Balmiki Ambedkar Malin Basti Awas Yojna, targeted shifting 60 per cent of slum-dwellers, but only 6,000 people have been rehabilitated so far. And many families have returned as they were sent off far from the city where they found no means of livelihood.

In many areas, the groundwater is nitrate- and manganese-toxic, due to unplanned drains and release of sewage into the Gomti. The Gomti is so polluted that the oxygen level dips to zero in some patches. Says a Pollution Control Board official: "Even fish do not survive in that septic water."

Amethi

"If the Gandhis haven’t done anything for Amethi, what chance of any other politician doing better?"

The Gandhis (Congress)

Won from Amethi: The Congress has won this seat 10 times since 1957 and the Gandhis five times. Votes for Sonia Gandhi: 67.12 per cent (last election)

- Alarming levels of unemployment

-  The most electricity that Amethi town gets is 14 hours a day

- No university. No technical institutes. Only a handful of degree colleges and two polytechnics.

- The constituency has only one big hospital

Want to know why the Congress so vehemently disbelieves the BJP’s India Shining campaign? Visit Sonia Gandhi’s constituency. Now being handed over to son Rahul. It takes its name from a squalid little town called Amethi that is barely surviving rationed electricity, pot-holed roads, meagre avenues for higher education, excruciating unemployment. This despite the electorate here having voted the Gandhis to power over and over and over again.

Vishwanath Verma is sure he’ll vote for the Gandhis again. He’s unsure, though, as to why despite having voted for them always, his village Pure Motiram still doesn’t have electricity or a pucca road. He’s unsure, too, about the future of his children: "Even after passing class 10, I couldn’t find a single job for years. If we continue living in Amethi, my kids, no matter how well I educate them, will also be reduced to pulling a rickshaw like me."

The past some years have only seen avenues for employment diminishing. Locals recount the closure of many factories-LML Vespa, Usha Rectifiers, Shalimar Paints, Malvika Steel, Samrat Bicycles, Arif Cement.... Only four big companies remain: HAL, ACC, Indo Gulf Fertilisers and BHEL. And even in these, locals get jobs as factory hands at best. The Jawan Recruitment Centre, set up here during Rajiv Gandhi’s time, is also no more.

"There’s nothing here to interest investors anymore," observes Radhey Shyam Tiwari, history professor at Amethi’s RRPG College. "Neither incentive to set up shop, nor trained manpower to sustain work." Complains shopkeeper Vinod Kumar Mishra: "For education that’ll get one jobs as also for specialised healthcare, we have to travel out." Other than the few primary and community health centres that can only cater to basic health needs, there’s only one big hospital. Mishra’s father, who suffers a chronic spinal ailment, has to go to Delhi every month for treatment: "I’ve sent my seven-year-old son to do his schooling there, too...with the power situation so bad here, he won’t be coming home for his summer vacations either!"

Why keep voting for the Gandhis? Says Tiwari: "Why not? If the Gandhis, with all their clout, haven’t done anything for Amethi, what chance of any other politician doing better?" Rickshaw-puller Verma has a more succinct reply: "It’s a habit."

Nalanda

At this ancient seat of learning, the site of history’s first international university, over 46 per cent of the populace today is illiterate.

George Fernandes (JD-U)

Won from Nalanda: 1996, 1998, 1999 Votes for Fernandes: 53.29 per cent (last election)

-  George has visited Nalanda about 10 times during his MPship. He’s been to Kargil at least 38 times.

-  Tuberculosis is a serious threat for the 25,000 bidi workers here; but the hospital George inaugurated for them in January has no doctors, no beds, no equipment

-  Roads virtually non-existent

At this ancient seat of learning, the site of history’s first international university, over 46 per cent of the populace today is illiterate.

In Chhajji mohallah, the entire population huddles near a huge garbage dump with leaf, tobacco, yarn and iron nails, rolling bidis, from dawn till nightfall, for a meagre Rs 34.65 per 1,000 bidis. TB is rampant among the over 25,000 bidi workers. "We are like skeletons...living dead," rues Qurban Ali. Says Nasim Ahmad: "George Fernandes is into doing big things; he has no concern for poor like us."

A 30-bed hospital for the ailing workers was inaugurated by the Union defence minister in January. Small catch: it has no doctors, equipment, medicines, beds.

In 1996, on the banks of Goethawa river at Bhatbigha, he had promised: "I’ll build a bridge here." He laid a brick and broke a coconut. Again, in 1998, he promised that bridge...and then again, in 1999. "Jaj saheb hasn’t been here since then," says Balmiki Prasad of Teliakhanda village. Without a bridge, it takes 50 km of journeying to reach Manpur and Tetrawan, though they are actually just 11 km away, across the river.

Roads in Nalanda are a poor joke. And while the defence minister’s dream project for Rajgir-India’s 40th ordnance factory at the cost of Rs 800 crore-was scheduled to be completed in 2004, only the administrative blocks are up.

No roads, no jobs, no electricity either. One million quintals of potato are grown here each season, but without power, the crop rots. "We run on generators," says cold storage owner Ajay Kumar, "but it costs more and farmers have to pay extra." Most cold storages have got their power lines disconnected and rely only on generators. "Why keep the connection and pay bills for nothing?" asks Kumar.

Kargil being George Fernandes’ favourite destination-he has made 38 sorties there, compared to only 10 to Nalanda-he has built a Shaheed-e-Kargil Memorial Park in Biharsharif. Nine months after inauguration, stray cattle graze here on the wreaths laid by the defence minister. The flowers never bloomed, and the fountain never worked.

Hajipur

High-poverty, high-unemployment, high-illiteracy, with hardly any roads worth their name, scarce drinking water, scanty irrigation, two hours a day of electricity, and people dying of kala azar and malaria in hundreds every year.

Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP)

Won from Hajipur: 1977, 1980, 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999 Votes for Paswan: 55.75 per cent (last election)

- Floods and river erosion are perennial problems. Displaced families have received no aid.

- Kala azar and malaria kill over 200 people every year

- Agriculture in doldrums due to acute power shortage and consequent lack of irrigation

RamVilas Paswan has often said that he wants to make Hajipur a Calcutta or a Bombay. But after about two decades of representing Hajipur in Parliament, the constituency remains high-poverty, high-unemployment, high-illiteracy, with hardly any roads worth their name, scarce drinking water, scanty irrigation, two hours a day of electricity, and people dying of kala azar and malaria in hundreds every year. In Manhar, Jandaha, Patepur and Raghopur blocks, every seventh person is a victim to these deadly insect-borne diseases.

Regular flooding and erosion of the Ganga’s banks have rendered thousands homeless. In Manhar block alone, 32,000 acres of land have been submerged in the last 14 years. More than 2,000 displaced families, bereft of any aid, even of waterproof polythene, live destitute lives. "Only the toughies with starched clothes and buzzing cells get proximity to Paswan," is a common refrain. A woman from Haila Bazar narrates how she went to meet Paswan in Delhi, stayed there for days and spent all of Rs 5,000 but wasn’t allowed to enter the main gate: "Whenever he is here, he declares nobody will return empty-handed from his doors, but we always return empty-handed." The banana crop, Hajipur’s main agricultural produce, is dying due to poor irrigation facilities. Yet, the MP has been promising to export bananas from here to the world.

Paswan boasts of bringing a railway zonal office to Hajipur. But it is only technically located in Hajipur and functions from Patna. He claims to have initiated more than 500 smaller projects from his MP’s fund. But these, locals claim, have mainly benefited heavyweight sympathisers. The contracts, sub-contracts and jobs have largely gone to party workers. "No MP can claim so much work as what I have done here," says Paswan. But all that work seems to have fattened only a few acolytes.

Guna

"Their only objective is to safeguard their ancestral assets," says 75-year-old Gajraj Singh of Negma village, 20 km from Guna. He is referring to the Scindias

The Scindias (Congress)

Won from Guna: Of 14 elections (including two bypolls) since 1957, the Scindias have won 11. Jyotiraditya Scindia won the bypolls here in February 2002 after father Madhavrao’s demise. Votes for Scindia: 74.28 per cent (last election)

- Only 30 per cent of Guna’s children are fully immunised

- Less than 50 per cent households access potable water and power

- 75 per cent of villages aren’t connected by pucca roads

- Number of high schools per one lakh population is eight

"Their only objective is to safeguard their ancestral assets," says 75-year-old Gajraj Singh of Negma village, 20 km from Guna. He is referring to the Scindias, whom this constituency has been electing and re-electing since the very first general election, as if it’s their fief. Which it actually once was.

A single hand-pump is the sole source of water, not only for the 600-odd residents of Negma but for some neighbouring villages too. Four hours is the minimum every family has to spend on collecting drinking water every day. In Raniganj, those unfortunate enough to fall ill during the monsoons have to be carried almost 10 km on wooden khats; no vehicle can reach the village as the rains wash out any semblance of a road.

At Aroi, about 11 km off the Agra-Mumbai highway, says Sanman Singh: "Sometimes, we don’t get power for 15 days at a stretch." All the villagers chipped in to buy the Rs 25,000 pumpset, to build a common irrigation facility. The entire investment has gone waste, because there’s no power. Says Singh: "We don’t want much. Just give us power for four months a year. But these great leaders couldn’t even do this."

At least 30 starvation deaths were reported from Shivpuri in 2002. Every year, thousands of cattle die for want for fodder and water. "Not a penny of the drought relief fund has reached us," says Ayodhi Bai. In September 2002, a government study found 6,785 children in 43 blocks of Shivpuri severely malnourished-an average of 160 a block. Anganwadis, supposed to provide children nutrition, seem to exist only on paper. In July 2002, when Swami Agnivesh’s Bandhua Mukti Morcha rescued 11 Sahariya tribal families working as bonded labour in a stone quarry barely 10 km from Shivpuri, it was only a public admittance of a well-known fact. When asked whether they will vote for the Scindias again, the people of Aroi are unanimous: "We pray that the maharaja doesn’t win this time." Says Gangaram, an old man: "We have voted them to power again and again. But things have only got worse and worse."

Chhindwara

Only 4 per cent of the villages in Bicchua block are connected with all-weather roads. In Harrai block, it’s 7 per cent; in Amarwara, 8.

Kamal Nath (Congress)

Won from Chhindwara: Four successive elections, beginning 1980. In 1996, his wife won the seat. Kamal Nath won in 1998 and 1999. Votes for Kamal Nath: 63.98 per cent (last elections)

-  70 per cent of the villages don’t have pucca roads. Road area per 100 sq km is 17.3 sq km.

-  No electricity, safe drinking water, toilet facilities for over 18 per cent of households

-  None of the villages have hospitals

Only 4 per cent of the villages in Bicchua block are connected with all-weather roads. In Harrai block, it’s 7 per cent; in Amarwara, 8.

A 10-km trek on foot is the only way to reach village Almod, about 42 km from the district headquarters. It has no medical facilities and acute water shortage. "Handpumps dry up by April and after that, till the rains come, hunting for water is our primary occupation," says Kaliram Suryavanshi. Residents of Kikar village use water from a nearby nullah for drinking purposes. In Temru, the only well has been closed. "It needs to be deepened, but no one listens," says Kranti Bai. The perpetual water scarcity is attributed to the thinning forest cover. Dense forests cover almost 38 per cent of the district’s area, but the contractor-forester mafia nexus has been working overtime, converting trees into timber.

Jugan Irphache of Dasuawani complains that he got only Rs 14,000 of the Rs 25,000 promised under a rural housing scheme: "The rest of the money was gobbled up on the way." As for Kamal Nath, the residents of Dasuawani have never seen him in person. "He comes to the people only at the time of elections," says Kaliram.

Baghpat

The situation is desperate and people fight over what little they have. Last year saw 102 murders, most of them over property, 30 looting incidents and 14 riots.

Ajit Singh (RLD)

Won from Baghpat: 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1999 Votes for Singh: 48.26 per cent

-  Average farmer’s income has fallen by Rs 13,000 a season in the past two years

- Second-worst crime district in western Uttar Pradesh

-  Canals dry up. Average depth of tubewells increases to 17 ft.

-  No district hospital, hardly any healthcare

Jat-Dominated Baghpat on the fertile banks of Yamuna, just 40 km from Delhi, transferred its loyalty for the late Chaudhary Charan Singh seamlessly to his son Ajit Singh in 1989. The constituency’s dogged faithfulness continues, but tempers run high about years of misrule.

"We are not starving, but that’s it," says Sukhpal Singh, inching forward his sugarcane-laden bullock-cart in a long line outside the SBEC sugar mill. Says Adesh Kumar: "On February 18, we received sugar in lieu of cash for the cane we supplied in November. Since then no payments, cash or kind. We don’t know when we’ll be paid next and how much."

The situation is desperate and people fight over what little they have. Last year saw 102 murders, most of them over property, 30 looting incidents and 14 riots. And if you are shot or have a dog set on you by an angry neighbour, you’ll have to rush to Delhi or Meerut for treatment. Baghpat district, created in 1997, still does not have a hospital. The six health centres are little more than first-aid clinics.

Kumar predicts that farmer suicides and starvation deaths will become realities in a few years. Since 2001-2002, the going rate for sugarcane has fallen from Rs 95 per quintal to Rs 76. An average farmer, supplying say 700 quintals per season, has seen a Rs 13,000 drop in income in the past two years.

Baghpat gets electricity for some stray four hours a day, that too at odd hours of the night. Meanwhile, the canals are drying up one by one, choked with silt, and the depth of an average tube well has reached 17 feet.

Ajit Singh has spent most of his MP’s fund on roads. But they are so badly constructed, like the one connecting Baraut and Chaprauli, that repairs have to start immediately after they are built. Some of them, rebuilt higher every year, now cause flooding in the lower lying villages. Yet, explain a group of wizened patriarchs, smoking hookahs in the sun: "Everyone knows Ajit Singh will win, no matter what. It is a question of biradri (community) after all."

Gurdaspur

"Whenever Vinod Khanna comes to Pathankot, he’s cloistered with his coterie comprising the rich of the area."

Vinod Khanna (BJP)

Won from Gurdaspur: 1998, 1999 Votes for Khanna: 47.01 per cent (last election)

- Only 815 of Gurdaspur’s 1,546 villages are covered by government schemes, with 1,522 villages being identified as water-scarce.

-  No speciality hospitals. People have to go to Amritsar or Jammu for treatment. Just two 100-bed hospitals. Patient to bed ratio is 0.7 beds per 1,000-the lowest in Punjab.

- Only two government colleges. No girls’ college

As MP from Gurdaspur, Vinod Khanna is the chairman of the district vigilance and monitoring committee for centrally-sponsored schemes, mandated to meet at least twice every year, presided over by the MP. But over the past two years, he has chaired just one meeting. Both in 1998 and 1999, Khanna managed to sway people with starry promises: an institute to train people for the film industry, getting the area declared industrially backward to attract new industry and generate employment, using his contacts to get industrial projects.... None of this has happened, though. And Gurdaspur, which was once one of the key nerve-centres of the bloody Khalistani militancy, continues to languish in its backwardness.

Six months ago he appointed a crony to propagate the PM’s Swajal Dhara Pariyojana to provide clean drinking water in Narot, Jaimal, Sujanpur and Pathankot assembly segments. Nothing has happened.

Even the BJP workers allege Khanna spends all his time with the rich of his constituency. Says former BJP legislator Ram Lal: "Whenever he comes to Pathankot, he is cloistered with his coterie comprising Pathankot’s rich, at the Chamera rest house." Khanna’s office-cum-residence here is a derelict cobweb-ridden bungalow manned by a lone chowkidar. At Jakria village, sarpanch Mandeep Kaur says: "I am his party worker but I get to know of his rare visits only from newspapers."

But since elections were in the air, Khanna recommended 600 projects worth Rs 6 crore from his MP’s fund on January 30, a week before Parliament was dissolved. When it was brought to his notice that it wasn’t possible to get the money released so quickly, he asked the district administration to release 25 per cent of the total cost as "he had political compulsions". Result: the Bharat Vikas Parishad, Berhampur, doesn’t know what to make of the Rs 50,000 it’s received for an ambulance that costs Rs 2 lakh. Similarly, 35 panchayats have got Rs 12,500 to construct toilets, which need Rs 50,000 each. Says Jakaria’s Navtej Singh: "It would have been better if we had not got this money."

Periyakulam

On the surface, Periyakulam, represented by Puratchi Thalaivi J. Jayalalitha’s close associate Sasikala Natarajan’s nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran, appears "well-developed". If development is defined by miles and miles of well-metalled roads.

T.T.V. Dinakaran (AIADMK)

Won from Periyakulam: 1999 Votes for Dinakaran: 46.15 per cent (last elections)

-  The Varisanadu area remains the ganja capital of TN

-  There is no major industry in the area and the few big mills are closing down

-  What little development exists is caste-oriented. Only Thevar segments benefit.

-  Severe untouchability prevalent in many villages

On the surface, Periyakulam, represented by Puratchi Thalaivi J. Jayalalitha’s close associate Sasikala Natarajan’s nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran, appears "well-developed". If development is defined by miles and miles of well-metalled roads. Says an NGO worker: "Even if there are no buses, there are roads to every village."

Agriculture and spinning mills have been the staple, but the mills are closing down. There has been no effort to generate new avenues of employment. Only many new "marriage halls" (as community halls are referred to here) and renovated or newly-built temples. Given that under the Jayalalitha regime 2,822 temples have been renovated in Tamil Nadu, Dinakaran’s development priorities do not surprise.

Another key ‚€˜development’ is in building bridges and laying roads. "For, it is in these activities that contracts can be cornered and commissions made," says Ilampirai Gunasekaran, president of Ammachiapuram panchayat. Ilampirai’s grouse, despite being a worker of Dinakaran’s party (the AIADMK), is that the little development there unfolds along caste lines. "We badly need a bridge," he says. "But Dinakaran will build bridges only in villages where the Kallars (the MP’s caste group) need it." He also complains that the contracts are cornered by "outsiders" and mostly the dominant Mukkulathoor community-comprised largely by the better known Thevars.

Sometimes, even roads are laid only up to the caste Hindu part of a village. Thimmarasanayakanur, in Andipatti taluk, being a case in point.

The road to the Dalit colony, on the other hand, was completed with an NGO’s assistance.

Selvi, the village’s Dalit woman president, was not allowed to sit on the chair in the panchayat office. According to Panneerselvam of Network Theni, an NGO, there are at least 20 villages where the two-glass system is practised in teashops, and in some villages there’s even the three-glass system, where the dominant backward caste Kallars and Dalit subcastes are each given separate glasses.

P.S.

Soma Wadhwa with Sutapa Mukerjee in Lucknow and Amethi, Faizan Ahmed in Nalanda and Hajipur, K.S. Shaini in Guna and Chhindwara, Smita Mitra in Baghpat, Chander Suta Dogra in Gurdaspur, and S. Anand in Periyakulam.

Outlook india, April 12, 2004.

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