Mathura, 2017.02.05 (Chandan Nandy & Abhilash Mallick for The Quint): When retired college Professor Ashok Bansal was away visiting his son in Australia between December and January, the Mathura municipal authorities took it upon themselves to re-lay the brick-lined road that runs in front of his modest house in Manasnagar on the old town’s fringes.
On his return, Bansal found to his horror that the road’s elevation was higher than the level of his house. “It would have caused waterlogging during the monsoons. Such is the incompetence of Mathura’s municipality. And when I met the city magistrate and the head of the Nagar Palika, all I got was a deaf ear,” Bansal said, throwing up his hands in exasperation. Today, he is spending his own money to fix the defect.
“In a city where there is no drainage and plenty of waterlogging, how can one expect quality work? Mathura is epitomised by the lack of development,” a frustrated Bansal said.
The women of Choumaha village in Chhata constituency still walk 5-6 kms to fetch water for their homes. There is only one district hospital and the five tehsils have state government health centres which don’t function – either because there are no doctors or when doctors are available, they simply don’t work.
Iss sthiti mein UP sarkar ke vikas ka dawa jhoota hai. Koyi bhi party ke neta sadhu-sant to nahin hai (In these conditions, the state government’s claim of development is a lie. No party’s leaders are saints.) -Pawan Gautam, a local journalist
Mushrooming Private Education Institutes
As for education, new government-operated schools have not come up in years. But there has been a mushrooming of private schools, which the rural folk cannot afford to send their wards to because of higher fees. Mathura has 18 private engineering colleges which came up in various parts of the district, but mostly on the Agra-Delhi stretch of the old national highway. A few wound up even before they got started.
A local kirana store-owner recently turned educationist when he set up a few private schools. A wheat flour dealer-turned-land shark recently established the Kanha Makhan Public School. Kanha Makhan is also the brand name for the packaged wheat flour that many kirana stores sell across Mathura.
Patchy signs of “development” are visible along the Mathura stretch of the 165-km-long Yamuna Expressway that connects Greater Noida to Agra. When land for the project was acquired by the Mayawati government, some farmers made a killing from the compensation they received when the then-administration exercised the power of eminent domain.
Development in Mathura
People in Mathura recall that the expressway project was the Mayawati government’s brainchild, but the credit for it was taken by the Akhilesh Yadav government when it was inaugurated on 9 August 2012 by UP’s youngest chief minister.
These farmers constructed palatial houses and purchased SUVs. “Saikdon kisano ki taqdeer badal gayi,” both Bansal and Gautam said, scoffing at the development definition employed by the Samajwadi Party.
But this does not mean that a criticism of the Akhilesh government is a positive nod for the BJP, whose Mathura-Vrindavan candidate Shrikant Sharma has steered clear of deploying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move in his modest campaigning effort.
The After-Effects of Demonetisation
The after-effects of the note ban continue across Mathura: ATMs are few and far between in the villages, and banks still struggle to satisfy customers with the weekly Rs 24,500 ceiling. This has peeved the trading communities, especially the Agarwals, who have a stranglehold over Mathura’s local business.
Indeed, the infighting within the Mathura unit of the BJP helped the Congress, whose Pradeep Mathur is the sitting Mathura-Vrindavan MLA. A kayasth, Mathur has won the Mathura-Vrindavan seat three times on the trot since 2002. In the last assembly election, Mathur made it by the skin of his teeth with a 501 margin vote over the BJP’s Devendra Kumar Sharma. The SP’s Ashok Agarwal garnered 53,049 votes in 2012.
On paper, the SP-Congress alliance could potentially win Mathura-Vrindavan, but this time Agarwal, a physician by profession, was not given the SP ticket, so he switched to the Rashtriya Lok Dal. “Agarwal is rich and proclaims that he is a social worker. An opportunist with little or no ethics, he has sought to project an image that he would be best able to perform social service whichever party gives him the ticket to contest,” said a government official who did not want to be identified.
More recently, the cult suffered a setback since the July 2016 incident in which 24 people lost their lives when the state police opened fire on hundreds of squatters, led by one Ram Vriksh Yadav, owing allegiance to the Jai Gurudev order. The number of followers have dwindled since, and this will likely impact the SP’s votebank.