In Ghazipur, an eastern UP district known for sending the largest number of young recruits to the armed forces, villages that have lost their sons are divided about their voting choice Wednesday. The diverseness of their views is like a reflection of the varying election campaign rhetoric on the Army, cross-border terrorism, Pakistan, Indian casualties and the strikes across the border. BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the surgical strikes through the campaign and the party described it as the new bold approach of the army. Recently, he had said those questioning authenticity of the strikes should speak to the families of martyrs. Modi’s opponents, including Rahul Gandhi, have questioned the government’s policy saying more jawans are getting killed after the formation of the new government.
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“Pehle ke raaj me aisa nahi hota tha, ab yeh zyada ho raha hai. Aaye din koi na koi marta hai (there weren’t so many casualties of jawans during the earlier government. It is happening more now. Every day, someone is dead),” says Kedar Yadav, father of Harinder Yadav, who was among the 19 soldiers killed in the Uri attack in September last year. Sitting at the family’s house in Deupur village, he says Army jawans come from poor families and they are the ones getting killed. “It is good that surgical strikes were carried out but what is their use? There has been no impact of the strikes. No week goes by when a soldier does not get killed,” says Ramjeet Yadav, Harinder’s cousin.
About 30 kilometres away in Naseeruddinpur village, a different view prevails. “It is not that more jawans are getting killed now, it’s only that these deaths are being highlighted now,” says Pankaj Singh, cousin of Shashank Kumar Singh who was killed in an attack on the border in Kashmir in November. “It’s better to be in an attacking mode. I believe the new government’s approach is right. There is more liberty to the armed forces to strike back now,” Shashank was the youngest of three brothers. The eldest, Himanshu, too is in the Army. “Soon after my son Shahshank was killed along with other jawans, Modiji said that their martyrdom will not go waste. Soon the surgical strikes happened and many were killed in Pakistan. We cannot deny what the Modi government is doing in the national interest,” says Arun Kumar Singh. He has just returned from Kasimabad, where he opened a bank account for his nephew, Naveen, who too is going to join the Army now.
Singh is, however, concerned that his family and village have not been given what the public representatives had promised Shashank’s death. “The local SP MLA, Shadab Fatima, had promised to open a stadium in the village and change the name of this village to Shaheed Shashankpuram. MP Bharat Singh had promised to get a wedding hall constructed in his memory. Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha had said a lot will be done for us but nothing has been done. We are waiting for the elections to get over. Maybe, they will fulfil their promises after that,” he says.
In Noniyapur hamlet of Baddhaupur village, a new connecting road with inter-locking tiles has been built leading to the house of Manoj Kumar Kushwaha, who was killed in the same attack in November. The road was constructed by the zila panchayat. A banner remembering Manoj as a martyr hangs on the electric pole at the start of the road. A similar banner hangs outside his house. Kushwaha’s daughter Muskan has started going to school in class 2 and his son Manav is enrolled in LKG at R K Public School in the nearby village. His younger brother, Braj Mohan Kushwaha, says they are yet to get financial assistance from the central government. “We don’t blame the government for what happened. I think it’s better that the Army has more freedom. The jawans are facing threats not just from across the border but also from the Kashmiri militants. It is better to attack than just keep on defending,” says Braj Mohan, who runs a small shop in the village where he repairs electrical equipment.