What started as a difference on land acquisition prices, and village landowners wanting to go back on pre-negotiated contracts after development has reached their doorsteps, is now being given a political colour in the name of villagers losing their land
What is, essentially a land acquisition issue of the sort where multiple issues have raised expectations, has grown rapidly into another political side-show which moves into the la-la land of election theories and made for television situations. The real issues in and around Noida, a part of western Uttar Pradesh (UP) which is still stuck in some back-of-beyond kind of feudal and colonial time in many ways, are graver. Nothing is black and white, shades of grey, as well as all sorts of other issues prevail, and land-grab, yes, is—as always—at the bottom of the whole issue. But the deeper issue is what nobody talks about—that vote-bank politics in this part of the country have always depended on ensuring that people are kept backward.
Aside: for years now, the drawing room society sorts in Delhi have been going on and on about how Mayawati has grabbed land between the main highway to Greater Noida and the Yamuna for herself, for her park, for the JP Group to build townships on, the works. Truth is this. Here government has surely made rapid strides to develop Noida and Greater Noida, and built an extremely good road system which brings the people and land on the eastern side of the Yamuna into the mainstream. In addition, her government has made sure that the wetlands on the UP side of the river have not been disturbed, so you still have marshes, migratory birds, wildlife and most of all, no squatters encroaching on prime land. On the Delhi and Haryana side of the river, by contrast, the complete river front as well as the flood plains have simply been taken over by "a certain community" (the slum rivals Mumbai’s Dharavi), and apart from them getting free land it is a huge vote bank too.
But, to try and understand what is going on you have to first take a good look at a map, and see how history as well as nature has always differentiated between land and civilisation on both sides of the Yamuna, as it flows past Delhi, then Agra and on towards Allahabad, to join the mighty Ganges. This is even more starkly evident when you drive from Delhi, past Mathura, into Agra, cross the Yamuna at Agra, and then drive back via Aligarh on the other bank of the river.
The reason was simple—the mighty Yamuna always flooded on to the Aligarh side, which left the soil rich no doubt, but ensured that civilisation had to restart ever so often. On the other side, however, was Delhi, the grand Taj Mahal at Agra, as well as seats of culture and learning going back centuries in and around Mathura.
And then, after Independence, we talk development and growth. To start with, almost all development and growth, if not all, in this part of UP, so close to the capital of Delhi, has been on the Mathura side. It is as simple as that. One reason is that the growth in the Haryana part of the Delhi-Mathura-Agra alignment has been phenomenal. Faridabad and Ballabgarh grew out of literally nothing after 1947, to become what they are today, and that had an effect on the neighbouring parts of UP on this side of the river. On the other side of the river, the slow withering away of Kanpur had exactly the opposite effect, and that is a simple fact. The biggest industry on that side of the river, now, is probably kidnapping.
The railway lines to the east and north-east and points beyond, pelt through the Aligarh side of the Yamuna. The railway lines to the southern and western states pelt through on the Mathura side. But to regular travellers on both routes, the difference in living standards are stark—you have visible signs of affluence on the Mathura side, while the Aligarh route looks like it was and continues to be mired in abject poverty and the dark ages. Sanitation, maintenance of roads, healthcare, quality of houses, colleges, symbols of rural affluence like healthier livestock, kidnapping as a business, all these and more, again, the difference is visible or known; and the biggest indicator is that you simply see more women going ahead with their lives on the Mathura side of the river.
Drive to Agra on the Mathura side, and you have a fast modern road, doing the 200+ kilometres in around two or three hours. Cross the Yamuna at Agra and try to drive back to Delhi, you would be lucky if you got back in five or six hours, for the same distance. While the Mathura side route is safe 24x7, even the bravest of Delhi's taxi drivers will refuse to go by the Aligarh side at night.
And the part of Greater Noida making all the wrong news, lately, is linked geographically more with ancient Aligarh than with modern Noida or Delhi. On the wrong side of the river, so to say, as well as on the wrong side of development. Till, Mayawati decided to change things. And one thing she did—and continues to do—is really working on getting the girl child to school. As well as trying to develop the roads. Anybody sense a Bihar repeat, they got it.
Last winter, on a road trip by the lesser-used route from Delhi to Lucknow via Moradabad-Bareilly-Shahjahanpur-Sitapur, with side trips to Pilibhit, I saw how the focus on getting the girl child to school was strongly resisted by the menfolk of "a certain community", and tacitly supported by the others, too. But Mayawati's message to the people is clear; if they do not let her build roads or send the girl child to school, she will do so anyways.
That does not make her popular with a ruling class that has historically and traditionally depended on keeping the masses subjugated. Simply put, many people who do not want development on the Aligarh side of the river do not like these changes at all. Their manhood is threatened, yes, I have heard that too. But actually it threatens and puts at risk the complete feudal and colonial structure that keeps them in power, for pelf and with fine food with raiment—a scenario that has been done away with by the middle class on the other, Mathura side, of the river.
Some history: During her previous tenures, Mayawati started developing the area between Noida and Aligarh—whether it was attracting industry to Greater Noida, or building the ambitious Delhi-Allahabad-Varanasi expressway. As soon as somebody else would come to power (read Mulayam Singh Yadav), all development work would come to a halt.
Today, what started as a serious difference of opinion on land acquisition prices, as well as village landowners wanting to go back on pre-negotiated contracts after development has reached their doorsteps, is being given a political colour in the name of villagers losing their land. That is very interesting—everybody comes from Lutyen's Delhi for the day, to support the villagers, and then they go back to their palaces for the night. That Lutyen's Delhi was a village in the previous United Provinces, too, is forgotten—after all, how far back in history do we want to go, when we want to decide that the villagers should keep their lands, development be damned?
I tried to go to the village of Bhatta Parsaul, and made it to the developed parts beyond Greater Noida where the middle class go, to visit a friend who lives there and teaches at (of all things) a marine college, with a dummy ship built right there in the middle of everything. He advised me not to go. It was not safe—too many political workers reportedly snatching vehicles, any sort of vehicles, to go there too. They are going there to protest the acquisition of land belonging to the villagers. I returned to my home in Defence Colony, which is built on land acquired from villagers of Kotla Mubarakpur, about 60 years ago.
Land acquisition has a lot of aspects to it. But it helps if you are on the correct side of the river, or the correct side of society, too.
Two tough women lead change in the East and in the South; Congress deals blow to Left in Kerala too, consolidates in Assam states
Two strong women leaders, Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalitha, triumphed in elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu today in the face of huge odds, in a resounding election verdict against muscle and money power. In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front only just managed to edge out the Left Front in a state that has never elected a ruling party for a second consecutive term. In Assam and Puducherry, the ruling Congress made good gains to strengthen its position in the two states.
The stock markets reacted positively to the results, shooting up by over 2% in the afternoon. The Sensex was up 370 points to 18,710 and the Nifty gained 114 points to 5,600 at 1.30pm, buoyed by hopes that the election results would give some reprieve to the battered Manmohan Singh government at the Centre.
Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) alliance with the Congress party swept the communists from power in West Bengal, ending their 34-year uninterrupted rule. The CPI(M)-led Left Front was routed with most of its ministers, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, getting a drubbing.
The TMC-Cong was leading in 204 of the constituencies against 74 with the Left combine, just under the exit poll predictions. The CPI(M) previously had 176 members and its alliance parties a further 51 in the 294-member legislative assembly.
Ms Banerjee fought the Left on unjust policies against villagers, and for the lack of jobs in an overall poor economic environment. The battle was raised to another level over the take over of lands in Singur and Nandigram that resulted in the loss of many lives. As she talked about her plans for the state today, Didi, as she is lovingly called, made it a point to remind celebrating party workers not to forget the martyrs.
While the TMC-Cong alliance was expected to win easily, the surprise perhaps was in Tamil Nadu, where poll pundits had given the corruption-tainted DMK a chance. The principal opposition AIADMK was leading in 192 of the constituencies, while the ruling DMK-Congress alliance was ahead in only 41, which is a huge fall from the 163 seats it had in the 234-member house. Exit poll predictions had given the DMK 102-114 and the AIADMK alliance 120-132.
The wave in Tamil Nadu seemed to have also influenced the mood in the Union Territory of Puducherry, where the All India NR Congress (AINRC) in alliance with the AIADMK were leading in more than half of the total 30 constituencies. The AINRC is headed by N Rangasamy who was unceremoniously removed as chief minister of a Congress government some time back. The Congress-DMK alliance were not likely to get more than 10 seats.
In Kerala, the other CPI(M) ruled state, the Left Front was ahead in 53 of the constituencies and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was leading in 57 of the about 120 constituencies for which counting trends were available. The LDF had won 13 of the seats for which results were declared so far and the UDF 15.
The LDF previously had 98 seats against the UDF's 42 in the 140-member Kerala state assembly, and this time round, expecting a defeat in West Bengal the Left Front made an extra effort to try and retain power in the southern state.
In Assam, the Congress was leading in counting in 74 constituencies, compared to only seven with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), and appeared set to win a good two-third majority. Other parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party were ahead in 34 constituencies The Congress previously had 53 members in the 126-member house.