UP Polls: Theatre group stages plays for BJP’s Maurya

By Anishka Sharma

KAUSHAMBI: As Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) star campaigner and Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya canvasses across the state, a team of theatre artists streamlines his campaign back home in the Sirathu assembly seat, where he is locked in a contest against Samajwadi Party's Pallavi Patel.

Over a dozen artists of the theatre group from Delhi is staging street plays here to inform the public about the work done by the BJP government and Maurya. While the plays are enthralling local people, many refused to talk about their preferences in the high-decibel battle for the ballot here.

"When a street-play is about to begin, we start playing the 'dhapli' (a musical instrument) to draw the crowd to our show," said Mohit Nirhaakhar, who heads the 'Parindey' group,” said.

Through fun and play, the characters are making people aware of various welfare schemes run by the double-engine government in the state, he said. The theme of one such play was how the wife of a local man who used to hesitantly bring just a cup of tea for his guests now comes with a plate of 'pakoras' along with the beverage.

"When the guest asks the host what led to this change, he replies it is the magic of Modiji, Yogiji and Keshav Maurya and points to a cooking gas cylinder provided under the Ujjwala scheme," Nirhaakhar said.

Similarly, plays were enacted on NRIs evincing faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi setting up a medical college in Sirathu so that youngsters can pursue a career in medical sciences in their hometown.

A show was also staged on how an old man falls down from a cycle due to bad roads, and Maurya, who also holds the PWD portfolio, has promised that by 2022, every village will have good quality roads, he said.

How construction of toilets brought a revolutionary change in the lives of women is the subject of another play hosted by the group. The team has 12 members, and they branch out in two groups of six to belt out plays in different locations.

"On an average, we stage seven such street plays daily. Sometimes, the number goes up," Nirhaakar said, and added that his team members use local language for instant connect with the audience. The team arrived here on February 6 from Delhi, and it has been staging street plays since February 7”, he said.

Binod Kumar and Sampat Maurya, among the audience at one such play appreciated the show and local hero Keshav Prasad Maurya.

On the people's reaction to the plays, Mohit said, "The response has been good in some areas, while in places considered to be strongholds of opposition parties, the response has been rather mild."

Kaushambi will vote in the fifth phase of the Assembly elections on February 27. Maurya, who claims he is a "son of Sirathu", is locked in a keen contest with Pallavi Patel, the elder sister of Union minister Anupriya Patel.

Pallavi Patel describes herself as the "daughter-in-law" of Sirathu. Nirhaakar said his group revises and edits its scripts on a daily basis, incorporating new points, and rehearses at night for the next day. He said children and aged women come in large numbers to their shows.

Besides him, the other members of the team are Prashant (actor, editor), Rohan, Mayank (actor, writer) and actors Priya, Abhinav, Golu, Alisha, Tanish, Digwijay, Vijay and Akash. Voters of Sirathu appeared to be holding their cards close to the chest when asked about their electoral preferences.

On a possible outcome of the elections, Shiv Shankar Maurya (59), a 'chhole-bhaturey' seller near the vegetable 'mandi', said, "Nothing seems to be clear this time. 'Koi lahar nahi hai (there is no wave of any party)'."

His son, Sushil, points to a stray bull on the GT Road and says, "The problem of stray animals, especially stray bulls, has increased problems for the farmers here. These bulls also pose a risk to the traffic and the vehicles moving at high speed on the GT Road."

Pallavi Patel is raising the problem of stray cattle being faced by the farmers.

At one of her rallies, she said, "They (BJP) say that they are giving you free rations. But, they will never highlight the fact that stray cattle consumes the crops of the farmers, pushing them into a debt trap, and thereby making their lives miserable."

Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, a driver of a local travel agency, says stray cattle poses a serious problem to the movement of vehicles on the GT Road, and sometimes also lead to accidents.

Ajay Kumar, a gardener who grows flowers and makes a living by selling them, said, "We are unable to decide which direction the election wind is blowing. I hope that by the time the voting day is around, we will have a clear picture."

Kanhai Pal, who works at a guest house located on GT Road, said the contest this time is "very intense and close", and "despite being residents of this district, we cannot say anything with certainty".

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