Probably one of the most convenient generalisations in Indian punditry is the concept of the Hindi heartland. As if the vast swathe of mostly fertile plains along and between the Ganga and the Yamuna and their tributary and canal systems was politically homogenous, or at least explained on the same basis of caste and religious divisions. Test this against facts, and like many other lazy political hypotheses, this too falls flat. Why, for example, do the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh vote for Mayawati, but not elsewhere? How come Mulayam Singh Yadav gets the Yadav and Muslim votes in UP, but Lalu Prasad owns them just across the river in Bihar? Then, how come neither finds even a passing mention in the electoral calculations of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand (formerly parts of UP and Bihar, respectively)? And how come Chaudhary Charan Singh’s dynasty (Ajit and his son Jayant) are the Jat leaders of western UP, but just across the Yamuna in Haryana, it is the dynasties of Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and now Bhupinder Singh Hooda? None of them count for anything more than zilch across the river. At one point, Nitish Kumar sweeps Bihar in partnership with the BJP. But then, the same parties are wiped out in the assembly elections that follow in contiguous UP. Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party dominates Delhi, the very heart of the heartland, but wanes even in next-door Gurgaon and Ghaziabad. So, what is this about the rivers? And is there, then, such a thing as the heartland?
The prudent thing for a political reporter, particularly one who’s been around for a bit, is to not even try looking for ideas and attitudes that span the heartland, and never when it involves a river-crossing. You drive a mere 250 km from Patna to Varanasi, and whether you choose the alleged national highway that takes you to the Ganga bridge across Arrah and Buxar and which looks like it was laid by the East India Company for its conquering armies in the Battle of Buxar in 1764 and hasn’t been repaired since, or the relatively better parallel highway through the once Maoist-ruled Bhojpur district, you see dramatic change, even in the landscape as you cross from Bihar into UP. Outlines of a modern factory (you can drive for days in Bihar and not see any such, except brick kilns) appear to the left of