August 20, 2016 1:30:41 am
More than 50 motorcycles negotiated the dirt tracks and potholed roads cutting through tall ripening sugarcane crops, with the Tricolour and BJP flags fluttering. At the head of the motorcade was a rusty-red jeep, two loudspeakers atop, and trailing behind was Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan, along with party workers and supporters.
On Friday, they were into the sixth day of the 10-day Tiranga Yatra in the minister’s home constituency — Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh.
“The PM’s brief was to tour our constituencies, look up forgotten freedom fighters, felicitate them (or surviving families/descendants), and revive their memory,” he said, getting off the bike and walking up to a small gathering at Ambarpur village in the district. “I have tweaked it a bit. I am also hearing public grievances, telling people about projects I have sanctioned, and what is in the pipeline.
“It is an opportunity to connect with the people; it must not be wasted,” said Balyan, who is accused of violating prohibitory orders and inciting communal tension in Muzaffarnagar during the 2013 riots.
Asked whether this is the beginning of his poll preparations, Balyan replied, “Of course. Look at the roads: it is the state government’s job but they have done nothing. I have pushed for funds for power, roads, water and now work is slowly picking up.”
At Ambarpur, two families of freedom fighters were felicitated — with shawls and sweets — before Balyan announced that Rs 500 crore had been sanctioned for power projects in the area, that separate feeders for tubewells in the village.
As he went on, Balyan’s voice got drowned by complaints: about lack of water, need for a canal and a check dam, and farmers “dying of hunger”. Promising to solve all this, Balyan left for his next destination, Ratanpuri, where he had recently approved a powerhouse.
At a minority-dominated village on the way, men in skullcaps and women in veils looked on as the entourage negotiated the bylanes, without making much eye contact. At Ratanpuri, a bigger gathering received Balyan.
Balyan claimed he has been covering 200 km — roughly nine villages — every day but no minority-dominated village is on the list. Contending that he drew up the list based on presence of freedom fighters, the minister said, “Minorities are there in every village; we have their support. Everyone has realised that they must live peacefully.”
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