Work that was getting done at lightning speed in Kol Gadhaiyaa in Bundelkhand ahead of the chief minister’s arrival suddenly stopped when his visit was cancelled.
“Shauchalay. Aawaas. Naali. Khadanja. (Toilet. Home. Drainage system. Brick-layered road.)” Sunita Devi, Khabar Lahariya reporter, rattles off the bare necessities of a semblance of a life in rural India – the vikaas that, contrary to primetime television reports in Gujarat, is invisible in large swathes here – as she takes us all on a recce of Kol Gadhaiyaa village, in Karwi, Chitrakoot district in Bundelkhand.
It’s a trip that the state’s chief minister almost took as well, a little over a month ago, when Kol Gadhaiyaa was marked on Adityanath’s itinerary as part of his October 22 Chitrakoot visit.
But the chief minister turned out to be a heartbreaker.
“Why did he cancel his visit to our village? Does he know how everyone here was looking forward to it? How can he do this to us?” Gaya Din Kortaay, a resident of Kol Gadhaiyaa village, had taken it personally, as he ranted on about the chief minister’s last-minute change of plans.
It was to be Adityanath’s maiden visit to Chitrakoot as chief minister and emotions were bound to be high-strung. As Khabar Lahariya editor-in-chief Meera Jataw, who was shadowing him through the day, put it, “He is our chief minister after all. There is a sense of ownership.” An ownership that translated into a peculiar kind of possessiveness and faux familiarity in Bundelkhand, summed up in a term of affection the teeming crowds had come up with – Takla – so evocative of both a tenderness and a naughtiness. “Hum toh takle ko dekhne aaye hain (We have come to see the bald man)”, was akin to a chant on Chitrakoot’s streets on October 23 – the streets Yogi ji was sweeping in the now-achingly-familiar photo-op gesture for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
But the whoosh of saffron left Kol Gadhaiyaa mostly disappointed. “People are refusing to eat,” is how Kortaay’s furious sound-byte had ended, even as we had picked up on the conspiracy theories next. Nand Kishore cited the corruption of pradhans as the reason for the change of plans, “They must have got it cancelled last-minute deliberately fearing what we would say. Kahin hum bata na de unko, ki khaake baith gaye hai sab. Kahin likha-padi na ho jaaye (Lest we tell the CM about how everyone has taken bribes here, and we put it on record).”
According to the village residents, not a single MLA, legislator or officer has paid a visit to this village, ever. But in the last 15 days, Kol Gadhaiyaa witnessed a lot of action. “A lot of work got done here, very, very fast,” was the overriding sentiment. There’s a lot to be grateful for in a chief minister’s visit, even an intended one, it appears. As Karwi MLA Chandrika Prasad Upadhyay explained with just a hint of a smile, “There was no need for the rush actually because we’ve been given time until December to fix all this. But the officers panicked and they worked overnight to have it completed.”
A few weeks later, on our follow-up report, we found that everything that had been marked “high priority” on the list as prep for the chief minister’s visit, had been left in a state of shambles. To quote Sunita – “Shauchalay. Aawaas. Naali. Khadanja.”
“We thought that they would at least complete the work,” says Mohammed Waseem, a Kol Gadhaiyaa resident, “but they actually all disappeared overnight.” But wasn’t it just over a month ago when it was all happening at lightning speed? Khabar Lahariya reporter Naznin who often reports on Kol Gadhaiyaa as part of her beat had observed, “Work that had been pending for 20, 25 years – the way they were working, it looked like they would manage to complete it in 15 days!”
An echo we found in Banadi village too, end-October – the chosen gaon on the chief minister’s Karmabhoomi trip that witnessed a kaya-palat. According to Banadi local Ram Lal, “Everyone is coming here. The BDO, the CDO, even the DM saab, everyone, has come here.” Had any department officers or heads paid them a visit before? “No,” he had replied, adding, “No one has ever made an effort to see the actual condition of our village.”
In an anomalous move, no press cards were issued for the big visit and Adityanath had brought his own hacks along. “They came with him from Lucknow, and they were the only ones who were given a few bytes,” said Meera, alluding to one of the country’s biggest mainstream Hindi news channels that had been so physically close to the chief minister, you would’ve been excused for assuming them to be part of the mahant’s entourage. It was the Karwi MLA, Upadhyay, who finally revealed to us the big mystery of the last-minute Kol Gadhaiyaa rejection when we went looking for some answers, “The road to that village was not in a proper condition, so we couldn’t arrange for the cavalcade to go there. And it would have taken a lot of his time had he walked. There are time restrictions.”
The irony of that does not escape Santosh from Kol Gadhaiyaa, who has been plotting big plans of protest. “How can they do this? Is this development?” he thunders and lists out all the various options he’s adamant on trying to get the authorities to come right back to his village, and finish what they started: hunger strikes, protest marches, chakka jams, roadblocks, dharna-pradarshan. Waseem, on the other hand is more resigned – or you could call him a realist. “This will now only happen if another minister comes visiting, or, if we’re lucky, the chief minister himself.”
As the dust on the Adityanath visit settled and the dirt came right back where it had been swept away by the man himself, we watched the banners come down. And we heard all those who were left waiting along the sidelines. Bittu from Banadi told us that she was only too willing to quit ODF forever, but “there are no toilets” in her village. Women from Vinayakpur had trudged all the way with a long list of problems. And Ajay from Tauraha village had a unique problem he wanted to share with the chief minister personally – one of those surreal after-effects of demonetisation, “I want to ask him about the coins.” With determination, he adds, “I have many, many small coins, but no one wants to accept it. Shopkeepers do not accept these coins, banks turn us away. So what should I do with these coins?”
Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.