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History in the Making- on the Campaign Trail, from USA to India-11

Campaigning in villages near Varanasi: May 2, 6 to 9

(for photos, see Facebook page of <vicharak1>.

We spent several days going door-to-door and also addressing groups of villagers in several villages in Varanasi Loksabha constituency. There were several teams covering different villages. Girishbhai Gandhi (Florida) and I were paired together and we would have a local volunteer from the area to be visited accompany us everyday. We had worked out with a car rental company so every morning a car would be available though the driver would be different. As decided from the beginning we did not solicit any funds from the party. Ours was an independent effort augmenting BJP’s campaign and was supported by our own funds.

Some of the villages that we visited were: Chakia Karadia, Munohua (Sikarganj), Sulvesa, Machhilshahr, Ayodhyapur, Loharapur, Bodalpur, Bakhariya, Kakarahiya, Korauti,, Kotawa, Sirasa, Rohaniya, Kabirpur, etc. Most places, response was very positive. I got the impression that people were so tired of misgovernance, lack of infrastructure and lack of opportunities that they wanted to give a chance to Narendra Modi whose agenda of development was music to their ears. Perhaps, first time, these folks were looking beyond caste labels. No matter which village we visited, their complaint was the same- that no elected leader came back to listen to their problems, that the village head was corrupt, that neither had they enough drinking water, nor had they water for farming, electricity was sporadic, no one cared how poor people lived, etc. We repeatedly explained to them need to unite as a community and elect better representatives. We also took notes so that we could present a brief report to Narendrabhai

In one village we came across a strong AAP supporter. This was a Kurmi Patel. Many of these Patels are supporting BJP. He had choice words for system failure and had reasons to support AAP, whom he thought had solutions to his problems. We had a lively discussion but we had to keep it to the level where he could understand what a vote to AAP would mean.

In our visit to Bakhariya, Kakarahiya, Korauti,, Kotawa, Sirasa, and Rohaniya villages, we were accompanied by two women teachers- Puja Singh and Meena Singh. They were M.A,, B.Eds and quite progressive though in their own home and village they had to be in ghunghat (veil.) We came to know more about the village life, plight of the girls, poor standard of education, etc. from them. They had voted for SP in the last election and were now ruing their decision. Now they were part of BJP’s Women’s wing.

We also had interaction with pro-BJP Muslims in the village of Kotawa. This village had seen an inter-Muslim disturbance the day before we visited it. It so happened that some Muslim office bearers of BJP from other states had come to campaign in this town. There was a deputy minister for minority affairs from Chhattisgarh, Salim Ansari. Then there was Ashfaq Patel, president of BJP Minority Cell, Nagpur. His wife, Jaitunbi Ansari is Deputy Mayor of Nagpur Municipality. While they were distributing the leaflets, they were attacked by local Muslims; reason given was that the leaflets were printed in the holy language, Urdu and when these leaflets were strewn around in the street, it was an insult to the Urdu. However, real reason was the fact that there were Muslims who were favoring BJP. Police had to intervene and next day there was a flag march to ward off any potential trouble. We met with the visiting delegation and pro-BJP supporters from the town. Fortunately, by this time a truce had been reached but media was there to interview people to provide fodder to their communal mill. It was an interesting experience to sit down with the Muslims and listen to them. It was also good to see that some educated Muslims have started to come out of the ghetto mentality.

At Kabirpur village the audience consisted of about 20 women; they were not farmers. They complained bitterly about not having water for their children. Village had only one hand pump which was installed near village head’s home. Though it was meant for use by all, village head’s family was giving hard time to the people who came to use it.

These villagers had to go a mile to a well to fetch water. These women were so agitated that there was a cacophony of voices, all of them speaking at the same time; on top of that Hindi in Varanasi area is a mix of Hindi and Bhojpuri and more so in villages, so half of what they were saying was going over our heads. We found it difficult to pacify them. One woman was asking for help with her young widowed daughter in law who seemed to be in her early twenties. I really felt depressed after this visit, which marked the end of our campaign in Varanasi.

All in all, this has been an awesome experience and I learned a lot. I had come face to face with poor and forgotten Bharat. Since Bharat consists of 70% villages, I can see that the challenges are enormous. I hope Modiji will get support form all quarters to better the lives of these people and give them hope for their future.

I must add that we had generous support from some great souls. Dr. Naresh C. Gupta, a successful businessman, whom we in VHP of America (VHPA) have known for decades through his involvement in Ekal Vidyalaya program, had taken upon himself to pay for our guesthouse stay. There were six rooms booked for an average of seven days with each one costing about Rs. 900 per day. He also invited us for dinner more than once. Dr. Bhupendra Kumar Modi, head of Modi conglomerate treated all NRis to a lavish dinner at a four star hotel. Separately, Mrs. Veena Modi invited us for a dinner at Taj hotel. We have known Modis from late 90’s when they were involved with VHPA’s Dharma Prasar Yaatra and United Nation’s Millennium Peace Summit in 2000. Mrs. Modi presented all NRIs with a box of Banaras’s famous sweets.Wherever we went, we were warmly received. Villagers always offered something to eat. They were overwhelmed that some one from as far as America had come to listen to them. In turn we felt deeply connected to them.

I hope for an improved future for these villagers, where they would have all the basic necessities of life such as roads, water, electricity, healthcare and education and enough opportunities to make a decent living. May this election be a game changer in that sense.

On the last day, we took time out to visit Kashi Vishwanath Mandir and take dip in Gangamaiya at Assi ghat. I will write about it some time in future.

We returned to Amdavad on 11th and as I wrote all these reports (now that I have easy access to the Internet and Wi Fi), I have relived the wonderful experience.

Swami Nigamanand’s death shines light on destruction of our Heritage

Gaurang G. Vaishnav

Swami Nigamanandji’s death due to fasting is a big shock. While politicians play one upmanship and try to find advantage even in death, what is disturbing is that practically no one knew about Swami Nigamanandji’s fast. Why the media did not pick up on this story for four long months is a question we need to ask. Why VHP did not highlight it?  I do not know if they did but I have not seen any reports on it.

What is happening with our religious places which are also our cultural heritage sites is very troublesome. Whether it is the quarrying in the Ganga basin in Haridwar, building of a dam on Gangaji in earthquake prone area or illegal mining of Vrajbhumi, what is happening is the permanent loss of history and cultural heritage.  This is no less than the menace of corruption and black money. The fight against corruption and black money would be won some day but by the time our nation wakes up to the disaster of ruins visited on our historical and cultural places, if it ever does, it would be too late. We can blame the Muslims invaders for vandalizing our shrines and centers of learning and rightly so, but who do we have to blame but our own Hindu people and politicians for the naked aggression on our heritage because of their insatiable greed?

I am grieved by the death of Swami Nigamanandji but I have come to a conclusion (and Dr. Subramanian Swamy said the same thing when Baba Ramdev broke his fast) that you can use fast as a weapon only against those who have a heart. In today’s aasuric and adharmic world, one has to use the appropriate weapons as were used by Shree Krishna and Pandavas.  I am glad that Shree Krishna did not advice Yudhisthir to go on fast against Kauravas.  Come to think of it, how many instances you can find in our scriptures where people went on fast to right a wrong?

Gandhiji made fasting fashionable but someone rightly said that Gandhiji was successful because his adversary were Britishers; had he tried to fast against Hitler, he would have been dead long time ago.

I do not care for what Digvijay Singh says because he is no better than a puppy dog of Madam Sonia. He has no credibility to pass judgment on what Hindus are doing after calling Ramdevji a thug and referring to bin Laden as  Osamaji. The Uttarakhand government did move Swami Nigamanandji  to a hospital, just as they did with Baba Ramdev. They should have paid serious attention to Swami Nigamanandji’s demands.  It is a matter of great shame and pain that in free(?) and democratic (?), saints die because of total indifference of people in power to genuine grievances of people.

So far as the state government not stopping the quarrying is concerned, I would not pass a judgment without having all the information. When the central government is dragging its feet nay, putting all kind of road blocks in the path of having an effective Lokpal bill and bringing back the black money stashed abroad, why should we expect something different from any state government? They take their clue from their counterparts in New Delhi.

May Swamiji’s soul rest in peace and may his sacrifice not go in vain.

Swami Nigamananda, fasting to save Ganga, dies

NDTV Correspondent, Updated: June 14, 2011 14:50 IST

Dehradun:  As the Government and social activist Anna Hazare continue their war of words, Swami Nigmananda, who had been fasting for almost four months to protest illegal mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Haridwar died at the Himalayan hospital in Jollygrant in Dehradun on Monday.The 34-year-old swami died at the same hospital where Ramdev was being treated until his discharge on Tuesday.Swami Nigamananda had been on a fast since February 19 this year and was forcibly taken to a local hospital in Haridwar on April 27 when his condition worsened after days of fasting. He was later transferred to the Himalayan hospital in Jollygrant earlier this month after he went into a coma and subsequently died on Monday.

“The saint was fasting for the Ganga since the last many days. He laid down his life for the Ganga. I pay my tribute to Swami Nigamananda,” Ramdev told reporters after he was discharged from the hospital.

Swami Nigamananda’s followers have asked for a CBI probe into his death alleging that he was poisoned.

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