Mirpur, Ghaziabad: A day before it votes, Mirpur village in Ghaziabad is unusually quiet. One voice emerges from the hazy screen of a small television set and resonates across the village’s deserted alleys — Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking live from a rally in Chitradurga, Karnataka, on Republic TV.
The BJP’s presence is tangible and ubiquitous here: Saffron flags donning the lotus stand tall among houses, and posters dot the rough surfaces of closed doors and shutters.
“Only Modi will work here”, said Ram Kumar Tyagi, a farmer from the village in his 40s. “There were problems with electricity before because we only had one transformer. Now, we have 17.”
Ram Kumar belongs to the dominant Tyagi caste in the village. The Tyagis live in relatively better conditions, with ‘pukka’ roads where the smell from the drains is more contained. The innards of the village, however, expose its less developed parts.
Mirpur Hindu was ‘adopted’ by sitting MP and Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh as part of the government’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY), a rural development programme, in 2014.
SAGY, launched with much fanfare as PM Modi’s pet project after the BJP came to power, requires MPs to develop at least three model villages using existing resources and rural schemes as well as MPLAD funds.
Five years ago, Singh had secured a landslide victory with a margin of 5.6 lakh votes, second by a fraction only to Modi’s margin of 5.7 lakh from Vadodara constituency in Gujarat.
“Our schemes don’t have the names of any one person. You will see that the post of the prime minister or chief minister may be mentioned, but the yojanas (schemes) are about the government’s efforts towards the people and not any one individual in a position of power,” Singh told the Ghaziabad tehsil bar association Tuesday, while on the last leg of his election campaign in his constituency.
“In the last five years, we have achieved significant development for Ghaziabad, and we would like to see that progress continue,” he added.
Residents in Mirpur, however, believe that Singh’s development efforts have been patchy at best: Among the residents’ most pressing concern is the lack of schools and hospitals in the vicinity.
“The sign for the hospital will announce that it exists, but it doesn’t have chairs, doctors or medicines. Cases of tuberculosis are also on the rise. Just look, 200 metres away from my clinic there’s a dirty nala with infected water. Adarsh gaon toh bana diya hai, par sirf upar-upar se,” local medical practitioner Bharamveer, with a Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine, and Surgery (BAMS) from Kanpur, tells ThePrint.
In Mirpur, where Hindus make up 72.9 per cent of the population, the ‘Modi wave’ is still strong enough to tide Singh comfortably over the finishing line.
This election, the BJP stronghold of Ghaziabad will see a three-cornered fight between Singh from BJP, Dolly Sharma from the Congress and Suresh Bansal from the Samajwadi Party, though enthusiasm for the latter two pales in comparison.
“When we press the BJP button, we won’t be voting for V.K. Singh. We’ll be voting for Modi,” 60-year-old labourer Hari Singh told ThePrint.
Standing next to him is fellow farm-hand Tejpal Singh, animated under the influence of alcohol at 3 pm. “Only the lotus (BJP’s party symbol) will flower here,” he says, arms raised to the heavens.
“Modi ayega. Phir se ayega,” Hari says determinedly.
A few feet away, a group of schoolchildren not more than 10 years old, pick up saffron BJP caps off the floor. “Modi is great,” they say, unable to detail why they think so, and drawing a blank when asked about his main opponent, Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Not enough vikas
When Singh swept the Ghaziabad seat in 2014 elections, he had planned on turning wind into water for the residents of Mirpur, installing a large ‘Skywater’ machine in a central courtyard of the village. In the past five years, the looming structure has been unable to produce a single drop of water from thin air.
Two such ‘Atmospheric Water Generators’ were brought into the rural town, one of which was removed by Singh’s administration shortly after the installation. The other, kept at the behest of the residents’ demands, is now in a state of disrepair, broken filters peeping through slit vents in the large, rectangular metal-box.
Meenakshi Sharma, a shop-owner in Mirpur, scarcely recalls it exists. She makes a phone call to check and is reminded by her husband, telling ThePrint, “Oh yes, they left it here a few years ago. It doesn’t really do anything at all.”
Under the SAGY scheme, the village has witnessed improvements in the form of water tankers, cemented and interlinked tiled roads, cell phone towers and available electricity, but facilities beyond these basic amenities are still lacking.
Mirpur has only one public school till Class VIII. Beyond that, children must look to Mandola, the next closest village that is one-and-half hours away by foot.
“It’s particularly distressing for girls”, said 12-year-old Gudgud Tyagi. “Families are reluctant to send their girls to school beyond Class VIII because they’re scared of what will happen to them on the way”.
The children have been given a three-day holiday in lieu of the elections, but according to local medical practitioner Bharamveer, absenteeism in school is a regular occurrence. “The school doesn’t start on time, and teachers take offs on an arbitrary basis,” he said.
Only a handful of the residents ThePrint spoke to say their votes won’t go to the BJP and most of them are women.
Aabida, 18, who is waiting for her Class XII results, said she won’t vote at all.
“Why should I vote for anyone when no one has come to ask for my vote?” she said. “I’ll only consider voting when my great-aunt’s pension is resumed and the tangle of wires hanging over our heads is cleared,” added Abida.
“If water floods our house, we could get electrocuted and die. We’re tired of asking.”
In the Valmiki colony, women safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) working out of Delhi, said the lotus won’t get their votes.
“Ever since this government came to power in the Centre, our salaries have been delayed. The Diwali bonus still hasn’t come”, said Rajbati.
Two others, Kamlesh and Kaushal, nodded in agreement. “This was never a problem with the Congress.”
Their neighbour, Asha, shook her head in disagreement. “It’s hardly Modi’s fault if you didn’t get your salary. He has done great things for the nation”.
‘Modi, Modi, Modi’
Singh’s visits to his ‘adopted’ village are almost irrelevant given the deep impression Modi has managed to make there.
“Here, people turn on the TV and all they hear is Modi, Modi Modi”, said Gudgud.
“What has the Congress done? It is because of them that our country is in the pits. Forty of our jawans were martyred, and if Congress were still in power they would have done nothing about it,” says 25-year-old shopkeeper Pradeep. “Only the BJP has done work”.
On the television screen, Modi can be heard beckoning the crowd to dedicate their votes to the ‘armed forces’, who were killed in the Pulwama attack in February and who retaliated with the Balakot air strikes. “We have ensured that terrorists are identified and killed, even if we have to enter other countries to do so,” he said to the roaring crowd.
The residents of Mirpur Hindu watch on, unaware that this could be a serious violation of the Model Code of Conduct. In these moments, overflowing drains and lack of healthcare can be overlooked.