Vrindavan, 2012.02.11 (AU): As a part of its election coverage, Amara Ujala newspaper held a round table conference with some of Vrindavan’s leading citizens from different sections of the population and summarized their views. This gives an idea of what are the important issues in many people’s minds as the campaign starts to pull into high gear.
Currently the Mathura riding is held by the Congress Party’s Pradeep Mathur, who is one of only 20 representatives of the party in the Vidhan Sabha or legislative assembly. The state is currently ruled by the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), which is running Vrindavan’s outgoing municipal chairperson Pushpa Sharma as its candidate in the district. The BSP symbol is the elephant and currently has 219 of the 404 seats. The Socialist Party or Samajwadi Party (SP), using the bicycle symbol, has 88, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its lotus, with 48, are the two other main parties in UP.
No polls have been published, but prevailing public opinion gives the inside track to Mr. Mathur to hold on to his seat in Mathura. He is popular and has supported most of the issues that are raised in this article.
Save the Yamuna, Bring back Braj’s Glory
The residents of Krishna’s playground are anxious for more development. But above all they are fearful that Vrindavan is losing its religious character. They are looking for political leaders who will bring Vrindavan onto the world stage while maintaining that character.
On Friday, a round table was held at Vrindavan’s Anupayati Ashram, discussing the possibility of change coming with the state elections that will be held in Vrindavan on February 28. Here are some of their thoughts.
The first speaker was Mahamandaleshwar Avasheshananda Maharaj who raised the issue of civic responsibility in an election. He argued that voting must be made obligatory. When 100% of eligible voters actually casts their vote, then only will we get true and proper representatives of the people. He suggested that in today’s elections, on-line voting facilities should be given in order to increase the percentage of voters.
Govinda Agrawal, businessman, said that there is a necessity for people seeing the importance of voting, and especially the middle classes need to cast their votes. Agreeing with him, Ashok Agrawal, a radio journalist for All India Radio, said that civics education should be a part of every school program so that they know the importance of participating in the electoral process.
Anurag Krishna Pathak, Bhagavata speaker, said that all benefits should be taken away from those who do not exercise their obligation to vote.
Harimohan Malviya, former director of the Vrindavan Research Institute, said, “Politics has become a business. A person begins with a lakh and ends up with a crore. They are all busy making money and no one is really paying attention to development. And in the middle of all this, the people are being bled dry.”
Lakshmi Gautam, IOP College professor, complained that politicians forget the promises they made while campaigning.
Krishna Kali Peeth mahanta Dr. Keshavacharya said that the people themselves are responsible for corruption in politics. He said that “right to reject” and the “right to recall” representatives must be put on the books.
Speaking on development and accountability, Avasheshananda Swamiji further said that more than Rs. 250 crores (US$ 50 million) had been spent on improvements in the infrastructure in Vrindavan but its utility cannot be seen. He also brought up the issue of the Yamuna River, insisting that the people’s representatives have to get results.
Advocate Pratibha Sharma said that the length of time period for election campaigns must be limited by law. They go on too long.
Govinda Agrawal said, “The Braj area needs more industries that are non-polluting.” Avasheshananda Maharaj spoke about the brick-making industry. “In order to save the Taj Mahal from smoke pollution, all the brick kilns in the area were closed down in the 1990’s. This ruined the brick-making industry. It could be revived by the use of gas powered kilns.”
Environmental issues and the Yamuna
Activist in the Save Yamuna movement, Sant Jai Krishna Das, said that candidates for the election always make plenty of promises for action about the Yamuna, but go back on their word after the election is over. Accountability is also necessary on this issue. “All the parties must agree to work together on the issue of cleaning up the Yamuna,” he said. “All the candidates must make this an issue in their platform. Only then is there any possibility of a solution.”
Dr. Keshavacharya, “We must stop the filth from flowing into the Yamuna and have clean water flowing in it.” Keshavacharya further said that in order for action to be taken on the Yamuna pollution issue, some MLA is going to have to show leadership and push things forward. Otherwise nothing will happen.
Devendra Sharma of the NIPS Bank agreed that there was no meaning to Braj without the Yamuna. He spoke about beautifying the 84-kos parikrama trail and restoring the ponds and lakes of the area.
Vrindavan as a religious center of pilgrimage
IOP College professor Lakshmi Gautam said, “Besides material development, Vrindavan has to officially be declared a religious town.”
Dr. Keshavacharya, “Vrindavan is world famous as a religious and spiritual center. Eggs, meat and alcohol should be completely banned.”
AIR journalist Ashok Agrawal said, “We need to protect the Kumbha Mela grounds from development and the destruction of greenery must be stopped and a massive tree-planting effort made. People should not vote for a representative who does not take action on these fronts.”
Govinda Agrwal said that Vrindavan and Braj should be declared an official pilgrimage place. But we need to have proper parking facilities to accommodate all the incoming visitors and keeps pace with the increased development.
Lawyer Pratibha Sharma, a member of the Children’s Welfare Society, agreed, saying, “Vrindavan is unique in the world. All the candidates should declare their recognition of Vrindavan’s religious heritage and make it free from all kinds of pollution, environmentally healthy, and safe for those residing here.”
Harimohan Malviya said, “Vrindavan has a religious vocation. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come here every year to take darshan. It should be seen to it that the food products, especially milk products, should be free of any taint.”
Vipin Agrawal, a businessman, raised the issue of cow slaughter. “It must be stopped,” he said, “Cow protection must be on all politicians’ agenda.”
Vinode Banerjee, former principal of the Hajarimal Somani Inter College, said that the main railway line has to be extended to Vrindavan station. An investigation into the irregularities in the spending of moneys for development and proper punishment of wrongdoing.
Character: Everyone agreed that someone who is reliable and hard-working is needed. He should give priority to Vrindavan’s development, listen to people, work to making an official declaration of Vrindavan as a religious town and place of pilgrimage.
Principal demands: Return the Yamuna to its ancient ghats, have clean water in the river, increase greenery everywhere in the town, enlarge the Vrindavan railroad station and connect Vrindavan to the main line, improve parking facilities in the town, and prohibit the sale of meat, eggs and alcohol in the town and cow protection.
Principal challenges: The quality of water, the lowering of the water table, inefficient drainage system, improper implementation of the Vrindavan development plan, inadequate transportation facilities, encroachment on the roads, the state of the ancient ghats, lack of proper sanitation in the city, the need to protect the Kumbha Mela grounds.
The main issue that everyone agreed with was that the Yamuna River is a priority that any candidate will need to address if they are to get support in Vrindavan.