Twenty years ago, hundreds of young men clambered onto the dome of an ancient mosque in Ayodhya in an unforgettable show of religious chauvinism.
It was Faizabad district, Uttar Pradesh. The year was 1990.
An ancient mosque had been reduced to rubble and screaming men waving saffron flags were demanding that a temple be built on the spot where Hindu epic hero Ram was believed to have been born.
Today, in the same district, the same saffron outfits that proudly led that movement — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal — can’t get a hundred young men to their meetings. The young men are too busy tending their cattle, milking the cows and selling the milk at the mushrooming collection centres that are changing how the dairy business works in south-central Uttar Pradesh.
It’s a Congress coup that is changing lives — and possibly vote arithmetic — in the heartland of Hindutva politics.
It all started in party president Sonia Gandhi’s adjacent five-star constituency of Rae Bareli. In 2005, she announced that the National Dairy Development Board would open collection centres there.
Four years on, there are 36 centres in Rae Bareli, 10 have opened in Faizabad and there are 52 in two other districts.
“We get more than the market price at the centres,” says Sushil Pratap (27). “And our costs have dropped, because there is a centre within 10 kilometres of every village.”
Most dairy farmers here weren’t even getting their milk to the market before the centres came up.
“People had given up on dairy farming,” says 46-year-old Sunil Singh of Nimri village, now a dairy farmer himself. “They had to take the milk 30 kilometres to Faizabad, and then sell it for next to nothing to a middleman — or lug it from shop to shop, peddling it themselves.”
Now, every morning, a row of bikes, jeeps and even bullock carts — all carrying gleaming aluminum cans of milk — snakes along the Faizabad-Rae Bareli highway, headed for the collection centres.
On April 6, the Bajrang Dal called a meeting in Ayodhya to discuss the temple and the upcoming national election.
Only 200 youngsters attended — the Dal admits they were expecting four times that many; they had relayed the message to all the villages nearby.
“The low turnout disheartened the leaders and we were told to mobilise the youngsters,” says Samarjeet Singh (25), a Bajrang Dal member. “We told the leaders that these days the youth, which once formed the backbone of the Bajrang Dal, is more interested in the ‘white revolution’ spreading fast in the rural areas of Faizabad.”
Rajiv Das, the district coordinator for the Bajrang Dal, is planning to strike back in kind.
“We will launch a rural wing to woo the youth and inculcate saffron ideals,” he says. “No doubt the NDDB centres are changing the economic status of the youngsters, but they are still committed to the Hindutva ideology.”