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District Kasganj, UP: ‘Politicians should be among us, but never descend from photographs’

Ten days ago, on April 29, Kasganj had 271 new cases, an active caseload of 706 and 16 deaths. On May 8, it had 149 new cases, an active caseload of 723 and recorded 33 deaths.

There are few people at the BJP office in Kasganj. (Express photo by Dipankar Ghose)

Across cities, towns, and even large villages of Uttar Pradesh, the entrances largely follow a pattern. A welcome arch announces the entry, followed by a riot of political posters fighting for space. In front of his half-shuttered shop, under two such posters, one from the BJP and the other from the Samajwadi Party, mechanic Sultan Ahmed says these now evoke anger.

“There is a lockdown that is burning a hole in our pockets. And a virus that is killing people and making everyone ill. At a time when these politicians should be among us, they are nowhere to be seen. They never descend from these photographs down to where we live,” Ahmed says.

Kasganj is one of Uttar Pradesh’s smallest and newest districts, carved out of Etah in 2008. It is also one of the several small towns in the country’s most populous state that is reeling under a severe second Covid wave.

Ten days ago, on April 29, Kasganj had 271 new cases, an active caseload of 706 and 16 deaths. On May 8, it had 149 new cases, an active caseload of 723 and recorded 33 deaths. This marks a sharp rise from the first wave last year, when the district recorded a single-day peak of 77 on October 25, and an active load of 198. Until January 1 this year, Kasganj had reported only six deaths.

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In small towns such as this, the first call for help often goes to the political representative. Yet, across one day in Kasganj, The Indian Express tracked down multiple political representatives, from different parties, to find that their focus was still on the panchayat elections. There was complete absence of any aid on the ground, fear of stepping out of their homes, denial that there was any need to help — in short, complete political abdication.

Among the political representatives The Indian Express tracked down:

Rajveer Singh, MP (Etah), BJP

At 1.30 pm, at the Awaas Niwaas Colony in Kasganj, a blue board announces the home of the two-time sitting MP from Etah, the Lok Sabha constituency under which Kasganj falls. Except, the home is locked with not a guard or a functioning office. Two lights are switched on at the main entrance, but there is a heavy padlock on the gate.

A neighbour says the home is opened only around election time, and that the MP lives in Delhi or Aligarh. The Indian Express placed two calls to Singh’s phone number. The first time, at 2.54 pm, his personal assistant responded saying he was in a meeting, and the call would be returned. At 6.46 pm, the assistant said the name and number had been noted down, and that the meeting was still on. There has been no response yet.

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On his Facebook page is a letter written to the DM of Kasganj, asking for Rs 10 lakh to be released from his MPLADS fund for the construction of an oxygen plant.

Devendra Singh Rajput, MLA, Amapur, BJP

At 1.15 pm, the BJP headquarters in Kasganj also has a lock on its front gates. The gate is painted a bright saffron, and the three-storeyed building has eight BJP flags fluttering but not a soul in sight.

By 4.10 pm, there was a car outside and four people inside the office — two office staff wearing no masks, a policeman wearing a mask, and the man he was protecting, MLA Devendra Pratap Singh, wearing the mask on his nose.

Pratap is one of the five BJP MLAs from the area, with the family of at least one other MLA, Devendra Rajput, the Kasganj Sadar MLA, affected by Covid. Yet, Singh believes that this wave has bright spots.

“In villages, only those with comorbidities are getting affected. Otherwise it is just a cough and a fever that people will recover from. But yes, without Modiji or Yogiji, this would have been much worse,” he says.

Singh says the party leadership, like in the first wave, has asked personnel to help in whatever way they can. Yet, asked about the deserted office and the lack of any relief on the ground, Singh says he has not received a single distress call in the past two months. “I haven’t got a call from anyone in my constituency yet, asking for oxygen or a hospital bed. People are now fighting Covid themselves,” Singh says.

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While Dr Avinash Kumar, Deputy CMO Kasganj told the Indian Express that 96 Covid beds are available at the district hospital, there’s a catch. The district hospital is an L1 hospital, meant to deal with asymptomatic and symptomatic but uncomplicated cases which require no ventilators or ICU support. Which means, the serious cases should get referred to L2 and L3 facilities. But the L2 hospital in Kasganj “does not function”.

“Our L2 hospital does not function because we don’t have an anaesthetist or a specialist. At L1 we have some oxygen facility and we give patients medicines. If the case is more serious, we have to refer the case to Aligarh,” Kumar says. Aligarh is at least 60 kilometres away.

Kunwar Devendra Singh Yadav, former two-term MLA and two-term MP, SP

Unlike the BJP office, or the home of MP Rajveer Singh who defeated him in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the sprawling ‘Urmila Palace’ home of Kunwar Devendra Singh Yadav — that also acts as the Samajwadi Party office — is buzzing with people, at least 50 of them. Not one is a Covid volunteer, though. The people here, many unmasked, are party supporters celebrating a positive result in the zila panchayat elections, where the SP claims its supported candidates won 14 of the 23 seats.

Yadav comes down hard on the BJP government for the lack of planning and execution in the second wave. “Everyone can see what is happening. People are dying in their homes and on the roads for want of oxygen. They are even dying on their way to hospitals and the BJP is doing nothing,” Yadav says. His election affidavit saw him declare a net worth of Rs 204 crore.

Sitting next to him in a hall the size of a hockey field is Nawal Kishore, son-in-law of BJP minister Swami Prasad Maurya who joined the SP to much fanfare in 2018.

Asked if they were carrying out any relief work, Kishore’s answer is in future tense. “Devendra ji has asked for information on how he can contribute towards an oxygen plant. We will also try and get cylinders to Kasganj, and make them available to the needy. We are looking at how to do that. Akhilesh (Yadav) ji has asked is not to carry out victory marches and help the people,” Kishore said.

Tarun Sharma, Kasganj member of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee

At 12.55 pm, Sharma is outside his home at the Sahawar Gate area. “All these leaders have abandoned the ground, from the MP, to the MLA, to the party and government in power. The MP has not even come once to see the situation, and the disease has gone to the villages,” Sharma said.

Asked what he is doing to help, Sharma says he “stays in touch” with district officials such as the DM and the CMO. “I also try and convey to my state leadership the state of affairs, and see if they can help. But it is a scary situation,” Sharma said.

Raj Kumar, District President, BSP

Raj Kumar is not in Kasganj. He has travelled to Etah and is not sure when he will return. On the help that politicians can offer people during this second wave, he says, “It could have been controlled earlier. But now it is out of control, and nobody can help. Even people we know, even politicians are dying. Nothing can be done.”

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