Living with the unknown
Lucknow Fida Hum Par Aur Ham Fidaye Lucknow, Kya Hasiyat Aasman Ki Jo Chhuraye Lucknow" – From the wall of MB Club
This week's Notebook may well be rechristened as Lucknow Diary. Travelling to the capital of India's politically most significant state after the dust had fairly settled down on the stir which was created following the head monk from a saffron order being appointed the head of government, reiterated one thing for sure that the national media especially digital media continues to be in a state of denial.
That the media has lost connect with ground level realities is on its way to become a cliché to define it's functioning. When in Lucknow, it's difficult to find what people would call 'tell-tale' signs of a 'fascist' having taken over except for the huge congratulatory hoardings commemorating rise of the five-time Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of the state.
Albeit Raju, the veritable guide (remember RK Narayan's 'Guide', later made into a magnum opus by Dev Anand), my driver for two days looked happy at the discipline having returned, or rather seen by him for the first time, on roads of Lucknow. "Pata nahin sab kahan chale gaye sahib (God knows Sir, where have all vanished)," he says referring to the missing SUVs and motorcyclists on roads leading to Hazratganj, the city centre.
My co-traveller to the city from the airport, a business analyst, who has frequented Lucknow for the past three years, too is amazed at streets being cleaned of all the encroachments. "They were here courtesy the policewalas. Now that the CM is after them, results are there," Raju, the guide has a reply ready. The next morning newspapers were full of reports of the CM having inspected Hazratganj Kotwali.
There are reports of cops falling over each other to clean their premises, going on the overdrive to rein-in the roadside Romeos and shutting down the illegally run abattoirs. The newspaper reports give an insight into government's strategy. The first is the cleanliness drive, "both in word and spirit," says an aide of the CM as we wait in lounge of the VVIP Guest House, the property actually living up to its name.
"The second is to end illegal enterprise, the abattoirs are just one of them. But the topmost is, of course, restoring law and order albeit that also includes taming roadside Romeos. We did not give the drive the name Romeo, the people in the Press gave it," he adds.
Those in the national Press trivialising the issue for naming the drive after Romeo, the 'self-less' lover of Juliet in 16th century British playwright Shakespeare's play with same name, should realise that such schemes come to acquire name in the local lingo, which have great effect, and also to an extent, public approbation. The Chief Minister is leading the media narrative in his own way. After the initial push, he says he is against stalkers and not couples and as if to reiterate the point, visits a victim of an acid attack in the hospital and orders tough action on the perpetrators of such crimes.
Coming to the effect which the change of guard has had on the social elite, there is a definite sense of 'cluelessness' in conversations at the social power houses. The chatter at the famed Mahomed Bagh (MB) Club in cantonment gives an account of Lucknow's social elite having lost their moorings. "You had a Shivpal, a Ramgopal in the last government. You knew the people attached to their apron strings. Yogi Adityanath has never been part of Lucknow's power corridors. One doesn't even know who his close aides are," says a business leader from the city.
In the inner apartments of VVIP guest house, where the CM is residing, the day ends early -- 10.30 pm. For Yogi the day starts early too -- at 4 am. The last of the political visitor leaves by 10.30pm. In the waiting lounge, there are not those in starched kurta-pyjama with sports shoes, sporting beard and sunglasses. Saffron for sure is the flavour of the season. There are several in saffron kurta if not a complete overall.
Though he is young, the Chief Minister in his mannerism is businesslike and wants to give the message of maturity, making it clear that he is no 'ladka' (lad) as his rivals from the same age group -- Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, wanted the voters to believe. His rivals like predecessor Akhilesh Yadav understand this and have issued a rebuttal to Yogi's Lok Sabha address.
The former Chief Minister also cannot let the tag of the youth leader easily slip away. He is preparing for another battle, another day. And that is good for democracy. But then problems in his party remain. His half-brother Pratik and his wife Aparna, who unsuccessfully contested on Samajwadi party ticket from Lucknow Cantt seat, have already paid courtesy call to the CM and "expressed their interest in cow protection."
Cow protection and aggressive campaign for other such 'vaishnavite' policies are going to be the order of the day. The Chief Minister is a vegetarian and a teetotaler. So are his close aides. Thus, those in trade of meat and alcohol have definitely lost on a powerful patron. It's difficult to say, given Yogi Adityanath's Spartan ways that sweetmeats makers have found a connoisseur.
Lucknow for certain is faced with the unknown. There is fear in some quarters of this unknown, but the larger sections are curious about this unacquainted personality.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views are personal.)