A bold, handwritten banner in Virayanpur village reads: chunav bahishkar—pul nahi to vote nahi (poll boycott— no bridge, no vote). The village is part of the mango belt in Malihabad assembly constituency in Lucknow.
The bridge on the Behta river is a long-standing demand, going back to the British era. If it is built, it will cut the distance to the nearest town by 16 kilometres.
In 2012, Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Indal Kumar promised to meet the demand. He won the election, polling 62,782 votes but the bridge was not constructed even after his victory.
“Indal sahib won but construction of the bridge is yet to start. It was a rude shock for the people here who are feeling no less than cheated. He didn’t even turn up once to take stock of our condition that is worsening by the day. We have decided not to vote this time,” says Vimal Kumar, head of Virayanpur village.
“A small bridge is needed to connect the village. We have been demanding it for ages but there is no one to hear our grievances,” Muneshwar Prasad, 75, a villager, says
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The locals have pooled in money to construct a temporary wooden bridge for small vehicles but it is washed away every monsoon.
“The alternative route to the town is 20km long. The bridge will reduce the distance to four kilometres. People have to travel a long distance in emergencies. We won’t vote until our demands are met,” says Malkhe Kumar, another senior citizen in the village.
Virayanpur’s is not an isolated case of neglect. People here say the situation is the same in the entire constituency which has three lakh voters.
Political experts say the fight is between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) this time.
The SP has denied the ticket to its sitting MLA Indal Kumar and fielded Rajbala who owns movable and immovable assets worth Rs 3.41 crore.
The BSP has fielded Satya Kumar who has assets worth Rs 42 lakh and the BJP has put up Jai Devi Kaushal whose assets are worth Rs 4.59 crore.
The constituency is known as an SP stronghold as the party won the seat in 2007 and 2012.
In 2012, the SP’s Indal Kumar polled 62,782 votes. Kaushal Kishore, who was fielded by the RCP, finished second with 60,567 votes. He is the Mohanlalganj MP at present. The BSP’s Sidharth Shankar and the Congress’s Jagdish Chandra were third and fourth, polling 53,550 and 5,427 votes respectively.
In 2007, Gauri Shankar of the SP won the seat polling 44,481 votes. The BSP’s Mewa Lal, who was second, polled 42,252 votes.
King of fruits but cold-shouldered
People said the SP government failed to bring development to the constituency where 23,589 hectares of land is used for mango farming.
“Governments will come and go but issues here will remain the same. We don’t have any expectations from political parties. The SP government didn’t bring any change to the mango belt,” said Mohammed Miyan, a mango grower and head of Mujasa village in Maliahabad. The mango belt has no transportation facility, no dedicated mandi (market), no girls’ school and no cold storage.
No train halt
The lack of proper transportation is the mango growers’ main concern.
“The issue is not mango crop. By God’s grace, our land has much potential for that. But the issue is how to transport the crop,” says Khaleel Ahmed, owner of mango orchards in Malihabad.
Ahmed says there is no train halt in Malihabad and having one here will be a big help in transporting mangoes. Around three years ago, two trains used to halt here but the stoppage was withdrawn by the railways.
“The farmers have to hire private vehicles to ferry mangoes to markets across the country, increasing the cost and affecting the quality of fruits and the price,” he adds.
Mango growers’ association members said they had approached the railways several times and asked for halts in Malihabad. “But the railways didn’t pay heed to the plea. With no train stoppages, farmers are facing a tough time in transporting their produce,” says Dr Asmat Malihabadi, convener of the Mango Growers’ Association.
Malihabadi says the mango belt needs a dedicated market place, facilities for traders and availability of pesticides.
Though political parties are sparing no effort to woo mango growers ahead of the polling day on February 19, people here say development will be the main voting criteria this time.