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In the city of Taj, corridor case fails to cut ice

By Nistula Hebbar in Agra
May 05, 2004 15:56 IST
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It was a year ago, when a local newspaper scooped the story about a huge construction project coming up on the doorsteps of the Taj Mahal, a World Heritage monument, about which the authorities seemed to be blissfully unaware.

All hell broke loose soon after, and the Taj Corridor case, as it came to be known, led to the fall of the Uttar Pradesh government led by Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati.

This summer, the Taj Corridor case seems to have been forgotten in the hurly-burly of electioneering in Agra. Even before the blowing sands from the banks of the Yamuna could cover the construction debris, a city inured to scandals, had buried the issue.

The lack of popular discontent over the issue has also come as a surprise to theatreperson Nadira Babbar, whose husband Raj Babbar is the sitting MP from the area and the Samajwadi Party candidate as well.

"I had come here some time in March to find out about the contentious issues in the area, as we were finalising scripts for our street plays for Raj Babbar's election campaign, and I discovered that people were not too concerned with the issue,'' she said.

The reason for this is not too hard to figure out. "Once upon a time, this city was the capital of the Mughal empire, and the government of India earns around Rs 21 crore from the Taj Mahal every year. Do you see any evidence of it here," Piyush Jain, a trader in the city' s central commercial area Sanjay Place, asks rhetorically.

In fact, while campaigning in the city, Mayawati had recently threatened to settle scores with the BJP for framing her in the case.

The BSP candidate, Keshav Dikshit, says drinking water is more important an issue in the city than the Taj.

"Raj Babbar has not been able to provide clean drinking water to the city despite being an MP for five years," he says.

Even the BJP's Murali Lal Mittal Fatehpuria is blasé about the issue. For him also, water seems to be the main election issue here.

The truth, however, is that polling in Agra, as in the rest of the state, will be along caste lines. Fatehpuria is banking on the 70-80,000 Thakur and a similar number of Vaish votes in the city.

Another advantage for the BJP is that the fielding of a Brahmin candidate, Keshav Dixit, by the Bahujan Samaj Party will split the nearly 80,000 Brahmin votes between Dixit and Raj Babbar.

In the last elections, Babbar had won by a margin of over 100,00 votes. But this time, he may find the going tougher. There are complaints that Babbar had been absent from the constituency most of the time as he had been busy directing his daughter's debut film.

According to an internal survey by the BJP in the state, Agra will see a close battle, and the party may even win the seat if it makes a concerted effort.

Despite parting ways with the BSP, ostensibly over the Taj corridor issue, the BJP too has given the issue a quiet burial. "When the people are not bothered, why should we flog a dead issue," said a BJP worker.

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Nistula Hebbar in Agra