Rise and fall of cities in the lap of politics

India's largest and most populous state is plagued with indecisive policymaking and petty power struggle

By C P Surendran (India Mail)

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Published: Sun 15 Jan 2017, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 16 Jan 2017, 11:00 AM

On one side to the north of Delhi is Uttar Pradesh (UP). You cross the trans-Yamuna bridge and you are in Noida, the National Capital Region (NCR). Like Gurgaon, an affluent city to Delhi's south, and officially a part of Haryana, Noida geographically and politically belongs to the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Noida is often compared to the glitzier Gurgaon, whose upscale townships and lifestyle spots like Cyber Hub - a food park and entertainment spot right in the middle of a complex of shiny corporate offices - have lent the place a certain brand value. The fact that the domestic and international airports are some 20-odd minutes away by car has helped.
By comparison Noida, which was set up with similar ambitions, has fallen short of expectations. A few years ago, when BSP supremo Mayawati was the chief minister, the city had shown promise- briefly. No longer. Mostly the real estate - generally down across the country, and an indicator of an area's developmental prospects - has taken a beating, while that of Gurgaon's has been reasonably steady. 
The situation has not been helped by the fact that the chief players - Jaypee Builders, for instance have been unscrupulous. Hundreds of thousands of middle-class consumers have not yet got possession of their flats in Jaypee Wishtown up to six years after possession-deadlines. If a prospective showpiece city like Noida is in the dumps, one can only guess at the state of affairs in the rest of India's largest and most populous state.
Regimes after regimes have come and gone, but UP remains a case study in caste and tribal politics. Its 404-seat assembly is representative of the Yadavs and other backward classes (OBCs) and Muslims mostly in terms of demography, which in India could be misleading as money and populism play a shaping role.
Other indicators in UP like literacy (at 60 per cent) and GDP (at $150 billion) have remained static and deceptive. Deceptive because literacy is defined as your ability to sign your name, and the GDP doesn't explain the widespread poverty in the countryside.
It's not likely these things are going to change with the impending assembly elections to the 400-odd seats in February-March.
The party in power - Samajwadi Party (SP) - has split vertically. Traditionally, over the decades the party has been lead by Mulayam Singh Yadav. As happens usually in India, the party has been handled like a fiefdom. When Mulayam decided to make his son Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister of UP, after winning the last assembly elections, he may not have seriously entertained the idea that there would be a power tussle on his hands. But the worst has come to pass for Mulayam. And as of yesterday, Akhilesh has formally joined hands with Rahul Gandhi and his party to fight the elections. Rahul Gandhi's mother, Sonia, has kept away from the unfolding drama.
Clearly, both Rahul and Akhilesh are the faces of the new generation of Indian politics. Both are in their 40s. Both talk of inclusive developmental politics. Both desperately need to show that they can handle the fraught political equations at home and abroad with result-oriented performances. To a great extent then, what will happen to the dream-potential of Noida depends on the now staid idea of development. Staid because everybody has been talking about it for too long.
To complicate the equation on the ground, a survey last week said Narendra Modi's BJP will win UP. BSP leader, Mayawati, has challenged those readings and said her party would win.
The fact is that UP is going to see one of the most divisive elections in its history. And no matter who comes to power, castes and communities are likely to drive political agenda, and agencies of development and material progress - both private and public - will get away with murder in the melee. The idea of Noida then is likely to stay on the back burner. Builders like Jaypee can relax.
The writer is a senior journalist based in India

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