Fifth Columnist: Lucknow tales
There is no connection between development and winning elections. Certainly not in India’s most populous state

There are many ways to propaganda, but none more ingenious than that devised in where else, but Uttar Pradesh. For instance, how do you find out if an aspiring bureaucrat for the UP Provincial Civil Services (PCS) is qualified to hold his job? In UP, it is going to be determined by how much he or she knows about central government programmes launched by the Narendra Modi government.

Flagship programmes of the NDA government, including the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana or UDAY, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Swachh Bharat Mission, featured prominently in the PCS examination held recently.

No surprise that while the positives were highlighted and is going to determine whether a candidate is going to make it to the provincial civil services or not, questions on demonetisation and implementation of GST did not figure in the question paper, because of the perception that they are not popular, the GST for its teething troubles and the note ban for the miseries it has inflicted upon the common man, including job layoffs.   

Most observers have been quoted in the local media here as saying that such a heavy dose of questions related to the central government have never figured in a provincial examination.

The prominence of the central government’s schemes can be gauged from the fact that candidates were asked to arrange the schemes in chronological order of their launch. The options included Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Digital Gender Atlas for Advancing Girls’ Education, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana. Then there was the question, which required candidates to list schemes in chronological order — Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, Atal Bima Yojana and Make in India. Also mentioned in the question paper were the Urja Ganga Gas Pipeline and requirements needed for Startup India.

Interestingly, any visitor to the City of Nawabs would be struck by the number of hoardings of former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, which continue to adorn the city’s main thoroughfares. It is difficult to believe that Akhilesh is no longer in charge and that Yogi Adityanath is now the UP chief minister. It is attributed in the main to overenthusiastic Samajwadi Party (SP) workers, who are already in the preparation mode for Lok Sabha elections 2019.

SP workers are also on the war path — no doubt to embarrass the BJP government over the decision of the Lucknow municipal authorities to remove former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name from the city’s voter list. Vajpayee, the six-time BJP MP from Lucknow stopped contesting after the 2004 Lok Sabha election on account of poor health, but passed on his political legacy to the likes of Union Home minister Rajnath Singh and Lalji Tandon, who eventually won the parliamentary seat in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

Vajpayee’ registered Lucknow address is 92/98-1 Bansmandi, Lucknow, which is now the office of RSS-affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh. SP leaders are lamenting such an ‘atrocity’ being committed on one of the patriarchs of the Sangh pantheon.

But those who lament the backwardness of UP have a template of development before them, which can be emulated all over the country — the Agra-Lucknow expressway. The 302 km controlled access highway or expressway was constructed by the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority to reduce traffic in already congested roads and to reduce reduce and carbon footprint.

It is the country’s longest expressway, reducing the distance between the city of Taj and the state capital of UP by a long distance. For those who have struggled for years to get a booking on the Lucknow Mail train late in the evening or try to get a seat on ever booked-out flights between the capital of India and the capital of India’s politically most crucial state, need to start breathing easier.

This expressway, which connects with the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, has shortened this distance to less than five hours. The older congested National Highway, the traditional Delhi-Lucknow Road, took anywhere between 10-12 hours of nightmarish driving. 

The 6-lane expressway, which is expandable to 8-lanes in future, was inaugurated on November 21 2016 by Akhilesh, months before he lost the assembly elections in the most humiliating terms. In terms of expressways, it by far dwarfs all before constructed in India including the Noida expressways, the Mumbai-Pune motorway and everything else. In a country where land acquisition for even seeding a project is becoming a nightmare, the construction of a 300-km plus highway is an classic example of economic development. That it has taken place in one of the most underdeveloped regions of the country is an indication that where there is political will, anything is possible.

The cost of the project was slated at Rs 15,000 crore, but was completed at Rs 13,200 crore, defeating the very logic of inflation and land acquisition and this too in a record 22 months in arguably the most litigious state in the country. It has to remain one of the mysteries in recent politics as to why Akhilesh did not cash in on this expressway during the course of his political campaign, before he was swept out of office. Maybe, at one level, there is no connection between development and winning elections.


Ranjit Bhushan