HARIDWAR: This is the offseason in Haridwar but chaos is constant in India’s largest religious hub. Noxious fumes from garbage mounds assault the nostrils as the rickshaw puller navigates through gridlocked traffic. The roads are broken and encroached upon by kiosks selling Baba Ramdev products to Indian pilgrims and bric a brac to foreign tourists. Stray dogs chase tourists.
This, however, is election time and these things ought to matter. In Haridwar, they don’t. The cud-chewing cows in the midst of traffic are indeed the metaphor of the town.
“You should see it in the Char Dham season,” says Amarnath Jha, manager of a hotel in the Kotwali area. “Haridwar is completely choked.”
Without being asked, he answers the inevitable question. “First-time visitors always ask me why Haridwar is so dirty,” he says.
“I don't have an answer.''
A walk along the banks of the Ganga might be a spiritual experience but for the beggars, the stray dogs and the filth all around. ''I heard so much about Haridwar. This is my first visit here,” says Major Jain, a pilgrim from Delhi who brought his parents to fulfil their life’s wish.
His father, Anand Jain, a 75-year-old adds, “I want to leave as soon as possible.”
From the ever-present chaos in the streets, it is hard to tell that an election is being fought in this constituency of nearly 1.45 lakh voters. A group of BJP workers march on the choked street, their slogans drowned by the bhajans blaring out of every shop, and their saffron flags lost among the pennants fluttering from flagpoles. If you listened keenly, the jeep leading the group is playing a speech by Narendra Modi, promising to change the face of Uttarakhand.
The BJP’s candidate here is a sitting MLA, Madan Kaushik. As a four-time MLA, he makes a valiant case for himself, stressing how Haridwar has developed during his term. His opponent is Brahmaswaroop Brahmachari, who has an impressive resume. Well-known across Uttarakhand, he’s the head of a local ashram and has been the vice-chancellor of Uttarakhand Sanskrit University and vice-chairman of the Uttarakhand Sanskrit Academy.
But where’s the Ganga amidst all this chaos? It emerges as a pristine river from the foothills of the Himalayas and leaves Haridwar like a raft of flotsam disgorged by the town’s drains. Balkishore Tiwari, an authority on the Ganga, reels off the grim stats: The faecal coliform count of the Ganga at Haridwar ranges from 2.35 million/100 ml to 40.6 million/100 ml. Samples taken at various points of the river showed faecal coliforms counts of 1000, 1500 and 7.5 million per 100 ml, well above the standards set by the Central pollution Control Board.
“Nature has its own ways of bringing a balance,” says Tiwari, quietly angry. “A day will come when something like the Kedarnath tragedy will come.''