IT is a cloudy winter morning with a hint of rain but that does not deter a group of lawyers, students, political workers and morning walkers from streaming into Sharma Tea Stall in the Lalbagh area of Lucknow. Last week, the Congress convoy for general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s roadshow had made a brief halt at this stall. Over cups of chai and plates of bun-makhan, the conversation ranges from the newspaper headlines to chances of the SP-BSP gathbandhan (alliance), unemployment and Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics.
“Priyanka mein glamour hai, Congress ki bheed badh jayegi, lekin vote ka pata nahi (Priyanka’s glamour will draw in crowds for the Congress, but not sure if that will translate into votes),” says Jai Shankar Tiwari, an advocate. He is part of a group of lawyers from Kadipur area in Sultanpur district who are visiting Lucknow for an event.
One of the men in the group points out how there were more slogans on Rafale than for Priyanka during the recent roadshow, and how, when the convoy stopped at the tea stall, Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia had their tea sitting on the rooftop of their SUV, but Priyanka didn’t drink any.
Tiwari is easily the most voluble of the group. “This SP-BSP alliance won’t work. They don’t have strong OBC leaders apart from the Yadavs, so the OBCs are searching for other options. Earlier, they had (SP leader) Beni Prasad Verma… he is a strong Kurmi leader but he is not that active anymore,” says Tiwari.
Hanuman Prasad Tyagi, an office bearer of the Kadipur Bar Association, who has only been listening so far, joins in. “I don’t agree the gathbandhan won’t have an impact. Caste will be a factor in UP and if the gathbandhan fields the right candidates, the BJP will be in trouble. Of course, no one can predict the result in the case of a triangular fight… the SP-BSP alliance will work wonders if the Congress joins in.”
While Tyagi points out that the Ram Mandir is not an issue among voters, Tiwari and the others disagree. “Maybe the educated class views religion differently, but in villages, people want the temple and they know only the BJP can do it for them. People appreciate all the special arrangements at Kumbh. Even Akhilesh Yadav, who has probably never visited Kumbh as CM, was forced to take a dip there,” says Tiwari, but Tyagi keeps nodding his head in disagreement.
As they all take noisy last sips of their tea, one of them points at his watch and says, “Time to go. Tyagiji, we will convince you some day.”
The group leaves, with loud guffaws and some cheerful backslapping.
A group of Congressmen in kurtas and khadi jackets is waiting for a table to be cleared. Sipping on his tea, Jai Prakash Chaturvedi, an office bearer with the ‘Sainik department’ of the Congress, says, “Farmers are troubled, the size of fertilizer bags has shrunk, there is no employment… there are so many issues for us to take on the BJP. Our workers are enthusiastic… Priyankaji has just entered politics, she should be given at least 10 days,” says Chaturvedi.
Nearby, a group of young men stand chatting, arms slung across each other’s shoulders. All from different districts of UP, they have been staying in Lucknow over the last few months and have signed up for coaching classes aimed at cracking the Service Selection Board exams for jobs in the armed forces. “Bhaiya, panch chai, panch bun,” says a young man, raising his hand to catch the waiter’s attention. “We have our classes in some time. Chai and bun, that’s our daily breakfast.”
As they find a table, Ankit Singh, who is from Amethi district and has a BTech degree, says, “We are thankful to the BJP for all the digitalisation work. Otherwise, who would have imagined that you can use PayTm at a tea stall like this? But let me tell you, Ram Mandir is not an issue for us and should never be. Ours is not the age for puja but karma. We want good education, good jobs, a good standard of living but politicians don’t understand… That’s because all the youth politicians are 45-plus.”
Tea arrives, but Ankit wants to finish his point.
“Instead of talking about Rafale or Ram temple, politicians should take up issues like employment, not just for the uneducated, but for people like us from the middle-class who have higher education degrees but is good enough for us to get jobs. Look at the state of our engineering colleges — practical courses are not being held… So our degrees are worth nothing and we end up spending more time and money to acquire extra skills,” he says.
Manish Kumar, who is from Lucknow, adds, “Why is no party talking about climate change? It is a scary thought for youngsters like us, who have at least 40 more years to live. The quality of drinking water is deteriorating, air pollution is making it difficult to breathe… The quality of lives is so poor and yet, no party talks about it.”
Outside, the drizzle turns into a steady sheet of rain. Some rush into the stall to seek shelter. Among those inside, some simply look at their watch and call for more cups of chai.