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From the heartland: Firozabad, hope and typhoid in UP’s city of bangles

Ahead of Uttar Pradesh election, Shashi Shekhar takes you to Firozabad, the town famed for its colourful bangles, now another victim of unfulfilled poll promises.

assembly elections Updated: Feb 28, 2017 10:53 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Firozabad, Hindustan
Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections,Firozabad,Agra
Voters stand in queues to cast their votes at a polling station during the fifth phase of UP assembly polls in Firozabad . (PTI Photo)

Yesterday, I was in Uttar Pradesh’s ‘Jatland’. Today, I take you into the famous turf known in common parlance as “Yadav land’. Ramgopal Yadav’s son Akshay Yadav represents the area but the debate is not about Yadavs, nor UP’s Yadav family. It’s here that we talk about a city of hope and the discussions that are taken up before polls.

It would be apt to clarify here that theories of a Jatland and Yadav land were central to the analyses of bygone journalists. If the Yadavs are dominant, it’s not to say that the identity of other backward castes (OBC’s) is suppressed in any way. The Lodhs and the Kurmis are not averse to taking the fight to the Yadavs in the same way that Jatavs and Dalits are prone to split into camps and add up the numbers against the lead caste.

It is in this welter of caste and religion that Mulayam Singh Yadav crafted his own separate identity. It’s the same cauldron that is now being reworked by Akhilesh Yadav to give politics a new dimension. The BJP too, has prepared well to take on his might.

Firozabad in this arc is the town known to all married women round the country. The famed, colourful bangles of the place once decorated every bazaar in the country, as here, but cheaper Chinese substitutes now outshine them. The question before industrialists is how they have reconciled to the trend where the local industry finds itself totally compromised.

Part I | From the heartland : Caste, religion and Muzaffarnagar model of politics

“We feel hopeless. Being in the Taj zone, the coal based glass smelting ovens have already been banned. Public representatives had promised they would help us get cheaper gas, but that did not happen”, said one.

Do they feel insecure about their future?

“No, it’s not that,” is the reply. But how can one not feeling insecure, be worried about security?

I talk to a group of women who say that the Akhilesh government has set up women helpline 1090 and police control room (No: 100) to help in an emergency, but the “cops don’t work”. Another woman said, “Criminals rode away in my car in front of me. I phoned 100. The cops did come, did some paper work and went away, never to be heard of again.”

A professor in a women’s degree college said that students face problems in commuting to college and back. Thugs harass them. Principal of Ismail College in Meerut had mentioned that women students had to be sent back by 3pm so that they could be back home before nightfall. The problem is the same in all intermediate cities of UP.

Ask whether this has been the case since this government came to power and they say ‘No’. “The problems of women have remained the same under any dispensation. It does not have to do with this or that government”, they add.

The industrial city of Firozabad is made of mixed population. But as in Meerut, minorities complained that there were no schools, dispensaries or ATM’s in their areas.

Ask whether traditionally Hindu majority areas are better served and they say, “Yes, definitely.” Those who answered were all Hindus.

However, it is the situation of the working class that is the most deplorable here. Typhoid sweeps the town -- its victims mainly from this class. The mushrooming shovels and shanties amid huge garbage litters and stinking and overflowing drains all around, at once shocks and repels. Children play around--a painful scene--unmindful of the filth. You do not have to take to the by lanes of the town to witness it -- just take the train and the situation that strikes you on both flanks of the railway virtually stuns. The ocean of utter poverty and helplessness is enough to churn one’s guts. Nobody notices it, much less the politicians. But there was one example of charity that stood out.

A few moneyed people have come together to start a trauma centre, at which, for a fee of Rs 50 one can avail of specialist services. CT scan, pathology and X-ray services are available at half the normal rates. Even drugs are much cheaper and the way doctors tackle huge queues of health seekers with so much patience, is a sight to behold. That holds out hope.

However, the state of the poor is the same everywhere. The middle class is as constrained. The older parts of the city are anyway a garbage dump and the situation is now worst confounded. It’s hell. Huge traffic jams, polluting agents all around and huge scarcity of drinking water is a huge concern. People complained that politicians promise that water would be supplied from the nearby Kijeda lake at election time but its forgotten till the next.

Agra is the nearest big town, where people once converted to Buddhism in huge numbers, impressed by Ambedkar and later turned Bahujan Samaj Party into a potent political force to reckon with. The contours of a triangular contest has emerged here with polarisation of Muslims, forwards and neutral youth who would matter.

Tomorrow I will take you to Aligarh, which alternated between the vortex of riots and flooding due to accumulation of rainwater, but never gave up its fight to remain within civilisation.

Mulayam Singh Yadav
in Mainpuri. SP patriarch and founder
Akhilesh Yadav
Chief Minister. Has represented Firozabad once as MP
Ram Gopal Yadav
Uncle of Akhilesh, has huge support
in the area
Raj Babbar
Congress leader and former MP of Firozabad
  • The entire arc from Firozabad to Itawah, Mainpuri, Eta, Kannauj is dominated by Yadavs . They are over 16 lakh Yadavs here. Mulayam Singh Yadav started his politics in this area.
  • Construction of barrage to meet drinking water shortages
  • Creation of a potato cultivation hub and processing industry
  • Founding an IT hub in the region to give a boost to industry and employment
  • Special package for Firozabad to revived its famed bangle industry
  • Develop Mathura as a pilgrim tourist hub and cleaning of the Yamuna
  • Employment: Due to environmental pollution issues several traditional activities have been banned, which has doused local industry. Plans to set up environment friendly industries yet to take off
  • Law & Order: Barring some areas of Mathura and Agra, law and order is one issue people are highly agitated over.
  • Infrastructure: Barring Agra, other areas have problems of power and water supply, drainage and sewer and serious issues of cleanliness.
  • Food Storage: The area is known for its plentiful crop of potatoes, mustard, garlic and Kinnu. However, lack of cold storages lead to serious constraints to farmers.
  • Transport: All four major towns in this division suffer from massive traffic jams and no road is traversable. Many of the roads are in dilapidated state.

(Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Translated from the original Hindi.)

(The author tweets @shekharkahin)

First Published: Feb 08, 2017 19:15 IST