Once a major manufacturing hub that sent Marxists and socialists to the Lok Sabha, the city is now not even a poor shadow of its former self
Ajay Singh | March 3, 2014
As you approach Kanpur, even before a glimpse of the city you see a pall of smoke and dust in the air. It is a symptom of the city' precarious existence. Once a manufacturing hub known as Manchester of the east, the city is now bursting at seams.
Chimneys of textile mills have fallen in disuse and its industries are in a decadent state. Those living here for long do not take umbrage when Kanpur is often referred as “dying city”. “It (Kanpur) is nothing but a heap of garbage,” says a receptionist at the Kanha International Hotel near the place known here as Gumti No 5. The Grand Trunk (GT) Road here runs parallel to the railway line and their crossings cause traffic snarls which takes hours on end to clear.
But Kanpur was once a vibrant and thriving city reflecting the very essence of the idea of India. The Armapur Estate was established in the city to manufacture ordnance on large scale. The sprawling campuses of IIT, National Sugar Institute (NSI), and Hercourt Butler Technology Institute (HBTI) are some of the relics of that old grandeur.
In terms of politics, the city was a trend-setter with SM Mukherjee, a veteran Marxist, representing it in the Lok Sabha many times. With a large concentration of working class, socialism was the dominant ideology in the city. Trade unions like CITU, INTUC, AITUC, UTUC and BMS used to vie with one another to garner maximum support. As late as in 1989, CPM leader Subhashini Ali, a joint candidate of VP singh-led alliance, represented Kanpur in the Lok Sabha.
Later, Kanpur got intensely polarised on communal lines that marginalised the Left parties. Now Subhashini Ali is looking for a safe constituency in West Bengal. That politics has transformed radically is evident in the hoardings put up by prospective candidates. One such hoarding put up by Samajwadi Party candidate Raju Srivastava asks voters to choose the TV comedian for "vikas aur hansi” (for development and jest).
Politics, indeed, is a joke in Kanpur. Union coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal who has been representing the city in the Lok Sabha for three terms has done nothing for it in return. In terms of infrastructure, this city of fabled wealth appears a poor cousin of even B-grade towns. The rampant corruption has stifled entrepreneurial initiatives. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Kanpur is gasping for fresh air – not metaphorically but literally also.
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