“Have they eaten?”
“No, they haven’t.”
The silence was punctuated by noises made by cicadas, grasshoppers, and nocturnal insects that lay waiting for the sun to set. The owl that perched atop the Pipal tree made its cries when it was dark like today. The Prime Minister had promised electricity to every village in his Republic Day speech. They had heard it on the radio. They thought maybe this time it’s different with this Prime Minister and his party, infamous for rousing communal violence, now set for rural development. Although the Prime Minister sounded sincere in his promises the village had not seen a lightbulb shine. This darkness sprawled across the village since Independence. Billo remembered those years in Lahore, just around the partition of India, how her brothers and father had taken up guns, and swords, and the women in the village religiously carried the kirpan around their shoulders. It was a time when they felt near to their tenth Guru Gobind Singh who in a similar fashion underwent many tests of faith, one of them being at Anandpur when faced with a Mughal battalion of 4000 soldiers, the Sikhs fought with just a group of 40 soldiers. Condition with the Muslims hadn’t changed since then. Those were uncertain times, the partition years. The village used to be on high alert all the time. News after news of manslaughter and rape and looting poured in from every direction. The village that belonged to the Sikhs and Hindus turned into a fortress.
“Bebe, have you heard of the Prime Minister asking people to give away subsidy on LPG cylinders to the villagers so that we don’t have to cook food at the chullahs?”
“Yes, I have heard. It will take years before people start giving willfully to others. It’s only our Babaji who would teach men to share what they have. This Modi fellow is of a similar make. He believes in sharing. At last it feels like this nation cares for its villages.”
Gandhi and Jinnah had met. Miffed at this meeting, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru decided to be somewhere else in New Delhi, which was also caught up in a similar scourge of communal violence, wherein the Hindus, and Muslims were burning each other alive, looting houses, raping women, and bombing houses with handmade bombs and Molotov’s cocktails. The whole of North India was under the effect of riots. Mahatma Gandhi had offered Muhammad Ali Jinnah the chance to become the first Prime Minister of Independent India. The proposition which he rejected. He was firm in his belief of a separate State of Pakistan for the Muslims as he believed Muslims would not be treated on par with the Hindu majority in Hindu-dominated Independent India.
Somewhere else at the banks of the river Ganga, Dmitri Evanesova, a Ukrainian tourist and his Iranian girlfriend Salma Suleiman, stood watching the Ganga Aarti at the *Dasashvamedh Ghat* in Varanasi. The Prime Minister belonged to this constituency. It was always a Hindu stronghold earlier contested by the member of the BJP Murali Manohar Joshi, and a city which is considered the holiest city for Hindus and the oldest city alive on earth. At the turn of an era in the national politics when a political party had been given a clear mandate from the people with a complete majority, or the *Purna Bahumat* to govern, Varanasi remains a sort of barometer for development, the agenda on which the Modi-led BJP came into power. It was here that Mahatma Gandhi delivered his famous speech on cleanliness when he was called at the inauguration ceremony of the Benaras Hindu University. He had visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple like any devout Hindu. The kind of filth he saw at and around the shrine moved him to open his heart to the people present eagerly to hear something profound from him. It was quite an anticlimax, albeit acknowledged by Gandhi himself, that he should have spoken about the filth around the shrine and at the ghats of the river Ganges. Cleanliness of the city has been an issue with the people of Benaras since then that has still not been addressed.
Muraniya hadn’t had her vaccines yet. Japanese Encephalitis has been declared endemic to the Eastern Uttar Pradesh. Cities like Gorakhpur face the crisis every year around monsoons. The failure of the BJP-led UP Government can be judged only by the unending strings of death every year because of the disease being declared endemic by the World Health Organisation. Mass vaccinations, special children’s ward and unending supply of essential medicines are required to handle the cases. These are the stories from just the two of the BJP-ruled states.
What sort of development are we aiming at when the people at the grassroots do not find their lives different from the ones they had during India’s Independence?
-Dr. Prathamesh Seth