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UP elections: BJP candidate banks on cremation ground makeover to retain seat

Popularly known as ‘mashaan baba’ (cremation ground caretaker) in the area, Tripathi is showcasing his effort to renovate a neglected cremation ground into a multi-purpose park.

lucknow Updated: Feb 27, 2017 18:53 IST
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Lucknow, Hindustan Times
Mukti Path cremation ground on bank of the river Saryu in Chillupar area of Gorakhpur.
Mukti Path cremation ground on bank of the river Saryu in Chillupar area of Gorakhpur. (HT Photo)

Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh might be too close to call for even seasoned political experts but former state minister Rajesh Tripathi is confident of retaining his Chillupar seat.

The fifty- three-year-old BJP candidate says his work in overhauling a stench-filled local cremation ground will carry him to a hat-trick of electoral victories.

Popularly known as “mashaan baba”, Tripathi says he focused on the ground long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi hogged headlines with a controversial “shamshan ghat” reference.

He says he transformed the dirty and foul-smelling locality into the region’s only park, clearing mounds of garbage and discouraging residents from defecating in the area.

Named Mukti Path, the cremation ground now attracts visitors from across the backward region of Barhalganj, where people long for basic needs.

“The plight of the people moved me. In 2001, I decided to convert the cremation ground into the most picturesque location in the district,” Tripathi says. Chillupur goes to the polls on March 4.

Visitors start pouring into the park -- situated on the banks of the Sarayu river -- from the morning. People chat with family members in the garden, take a walk, shop from makeshift outlets or read a book at a new library nearby.

Tripathi says he hopes that Modi’s concern would boost renovation of cremation grounds. At an election rally earlier this month, the PM had said whenever graveyards are built, so should cremation grounds – a comment that triggered controversy with opponents accusing Modi of communal divisiveness.

“Majority of the cremation grounds in the state are neglected. The state government should provide basic facilities to the people visiting these people to perform last rites,” Tripathi says.

Tripathi launched the Mukti Path Sewa Sansthan in 2003 to raise funds for the task. Apart from local people, Non Resident Indians (NRIs) settled in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States joined his initiative. Soon, Rs 3 crore was raised for renovation work.

After establishing Mukti Path in 2006, he decided to test political waters. Tripathi contested the 2007 assembly election on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket and turned out to be a giant killer, defeating Akhil Bhartiya Loktantrik Congress Party’s Hari Shankar Tiwari, known for his muscle power and invincibility. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati rewarded Tripathi with a cabinet berth.

In the 2012 assembly election, Tripathi emerged victorious despite a Samajwadi Party wave. This time, he is fighting on a BJP ticket against Hari Shankar Tiwari’s son Vinay Shankar Tiwari who is contesting on a BSP ticket.

Tripathi hopes that people will send ‘Mashaan Baba’ to legislative assembly for the third time.

“After becoming minister, I launched several development projects and organised Saryu Mahotsav at Mukti Path. Top artistes from the state participated in the programme and it has become an annual affair,” he says.

NK Shukla a retired teacher of National PG College, Barhalganj, says Tripathi transformed the cremation ground and challenged the might of the gangster-turned- politician. People in the area will vote on development, health and education, he said.

Read more| UP election: Why Congress-SP alliance is giving BJP the jitters in Modi’s home turf Varanasi

First Published: Feb 27, 2017 15:24 IST

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