Coaching colonels in Bundelkhand, Einstein Public School in Lalganj
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The composition of voluntary armed forces in democracies has its own sociology. They are the favourite route to empowerment for the underclass: just see the rising number of African-Americans and Hispanics in the US armed forces. Given such a hard deal by nature, and a crueller one by politics and caste, the Bundelkhandis have found their aspirational vehicle in the armed forces. So do not just fret noticing how many of the security guards in our colonies, all unskilled migrants in ill-fitting uniforms doing 12-hour shifts on minimum wages, are Bundelkhandis. For each one of them, there is probably one preparing for an exam that would earn him a proper uniform, pride, love and respect of the nation, pips of an officer and a very decent lifestyle.
Five full days of travels through Uttar Pradesh's heartland and its distant Bundelkhand only underline the fact that the aspirational upsurge that we have seen envelop the rest of India is also vibrant here, never mind the state's broken politics where a mere 30 per cent vote share can reward you with a majority and 25 per cent leaves you a distant second. No wonder then that all the four vote-seekers, the SP, BSP, Congress and BJP, speak the same aspirational language, though the idiom and emphasis vary. Mulayam Singh Yadav and his very polite and affable son (the youngest key campaigner at 38), Akhilesh, are focusing on distancing themselves from a past they acknowledge nobody has any time for: a past of criminal, bahubali (as political mafiosi are called in UP) politics and of Luddite rejection of technology and English. So the party now promises free laptops and tablets to students breaking into senior classes, and they can choose the gadget in the language they prefer: Hindi, Urdu, or English. Akhilesh says the key to the future is public-private partnerships (PPPs), and one of Mayawati's key allegations against the Centre is that it hobbled UP's growth by not clearing her most ambitious PPP projects. The BJP would remind you that Vajpayee launched the road-building campaign and it would even turn around parched Bundelkhand by importing drip irrigation technology from Israel. Rahul Gandhi, in fact, is the only one not invoking the private sector, PPPs etc, in any way, but more than his message, his presence is aspirational in its own way, though less so as this campaign has progressed and old-timers in his party have broken his momentum by dragging in reservations for Muslim backwards. But more about that on Tuesday.
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