Shades of hope and hype
Five months after the search for a thousand tonnes of gold, Daundiya Kheda village in Unnao, the small hamlet rumoured to be concealing the world’s greatest treasure, remains a paradox. The village is connected to the city through roads that are intractable and the fabled El Dorado plunges into darkness after the sunset. Daundiya Kheda qualifies to be a mythical treasure trove protected by inaccessibility and ignorance. And yet it generates hope.
‘They would have certainly found out enough gold to overcome all our poverty had they (the Archaeological Survey of India) followed the saint’s advice,’ said Jhallar who was a key witness to the digging for gold. Nearly six months ago, a local Hindu saint known as Shobhan Sarkar claimed that a small residential place of Unnao’s king Raja Ram Bux Singh concealed a thousand tonnes of gold underneath.
In Unnao and its adjoining region, the maverick saint commands unquestioned loyalty. That is why he is called ‘sarkar’, or government. His words are considered sacrosanct, inviolable, a command to his followers. Jhallar, who belongs to Lodha community, is an ardent devotee; and so is Samajwadi Party district office bearer Shailja Sharan Shukla. Both believe Shobhan Sarkar cannot be wrong. If the search is left to the saint himself, with help from the Indian army, he would discover a huge quantity of gold that would put India far ahead of USA in richness.
Jhallar and Shukla are not exceptions but the rule here. Even the state believed in Shobhan Sarkar’s claim and deployed ASI and other agencies to search. After a fortnight-long operation, they found nothing. But they left the digging spot after marking it off with a tarpaulin. They might resume the digging in future, many people here said. Like Jhallar and Shukla, the Indian state would rather trust Shobhan Sarkar’s dream of gold than rely on its own machinery to alleviate people’s miseries, which continue to multiply. But the wait for the treasure continues.
It is no exaggeration to say that Unnao has been waiting for a divine intervention for a change in its fortune; not just financially but politically, too. Its Lok Sabha member Annu Tandon generated a similar hope when she won the seat on the basis of her social work. It was indeed difficult for a woman of Khatri lineage to overcome hurdles of caste identity and score a spectacular victory in 2009. Coming from an affluent background, Tandon’s commitment to social work was seen as precursor to imminent change that would transform Unnao’s landscape. But the hope stands belied at the end of her parliamentary term. She now symbolises status quo, an archetypal politician whose only interest is to win again. In an atmosphere of hope, she is on a losing wicket.
The story of Daundiya Kheda and Unnao forms a fitting metaphorical backdrop for our nearly 3,000 km journey crisscrossing Uttar Pradesh. We went there to assess people’s aspirations and the intensity of the societal impulse for a change in governance. In this journey, we came across facts and fictions, realities and hyper-realities that have combined to weave a dream of hope. It begins right when you enter the Yamuna Expressway after negotiating the traffic snarls of Ghaziabad and move along the bumpy roads in villages that have fallen on the wayside to pave the way for the development of Greater Noida and the expressway built and maintained by the Jaypee Group. On either side of this silken expressway are springing up luxury apartments and ready-to-move-in condos. This has fuelled the notional price of agricultural land, raising hope among farmers and prompting them to assume the new role of real estate developers. As of now, lush and verdant fields of western UP – called the country’s granary – have become a haven for the lucrative real estate business.
High-speed SUVs and luxury cars cruising easily at 140 km per hour on the expressway give a distinctly different picture of Uttar Pradesh from the reality which is as harsh as life, once you leave the highway and make for either Aligarh or Mathura. The roads to both the places are paved with back-breaking potholes. In our brief stay at Vrindavan, adjacent to Mathura, we found that Jayant Chaudhary, son of civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, had failed to deliver on any of the promises in his constituency. ‘There is no development in the area. It lacks even basic civic amenities,’ commented Arun Singh, a BJP aspirant for the Lok Sabha seat. Singh, a chartered account in Delhi, has shifted his base to Mathura. The twin cities of Vrindavan and Mathura, associated with Lord Krishna, are the oldest urban areas of the state. Yet its religious spots are the most dingy and poorly kept places that repel tourists instead of attracting them.
In sharp contrast to the prevailing mood of despondency, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi conjured up a dream for people of the region at his Agra rally a month ago. He promised to build an international airport to ferry tourists and develop high-class industrial enclaves for leather processing and bangle manufacturing at Ferozabad. He tried to strike a rapport with people of the region by highlighting the symbiotic link between Mathura-Vrindavan and Dwarka in Gujarat. There is little doubt that Modi’s oratory, albeit heavy on rhetoric, is the only sign of hope for people in the region.
By arrangement with Governance Now