RSS volunteers at their morning shakha. (Sonia Paul)
RSS volunteers in Lucknow at their morning shakha. (Sonia Paul)

It was barely 6 AM, but the vast park in the center of Lucknow, the capital of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, was already bustling with people taking advantage of the early morning cool before the stifling May heat set in.

Children were playing on the trim grass, swings, and miniature rock walls. Adults dressed in tracksuits and salwar kameezes were walking briskly on the cement path.

And secluded in a corner of the morning hustle, in plain sight to anyone who cared to cast a glance, a group of five men were performing their morning drills. They began with simple stretches.

Continue reading

India’s nationalist opposition party taking leaf from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s book to attract minority Muslim voters.

A group of locals gather at a hall in a Shia area of Lucknow to show support for the BJP [Sonia Paul/ Al Jazeera]
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh – “If you have to change the fortunes of India, it must begin in Lucknow,” Narendra Modi, the opposition prime ministerial candidate, said at an election rally early in March.

His statement reaffirmed a popular saying in Indian politics: The road to New Delhi passes via Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous and politically most important state – Uttar Pradesh.

As the city goes to polls on April 30, the attention is on the constituency’s Muslims, who comprise about 22 percent of the 1.9 million voting population here.

The right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has remained a force here for decades, is making every symbolic gesture to attract the minority voters.

Continue reading

A view of Awadh Point, a three story building in Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on Nov. 9.
A view of Awadh Point, a three story building in Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on Nov. 9. Credit: Sonia Paul

The raised sign for Avadh Point on Victoria Road in Old Lucknow is missing two letters, the “O” and the “I.” The “D” in Avadh also hangs precariously, as if it is ready to become the third. The three-story building was constructed in 2005, but it stands dilapidated, walls thinning and paint peeling, as if it is as old as the Awadh culture it’s named after.

Since Nov. 6, the start of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar and the period of mourning observed mostly by Shia Muslims, several figures are making their presence known at Avadh Point and other areas deemed sensitive in Lucknow for the next two and a half months: police officers.

“All the mess starts from here,” said Zeeshan Ansari, 21, a Sunni Muslim and recent college graduate who lives in the neighborhood. He was sitting on the patio of Avadh Point, gazing at the fruit vendors, shared auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and throngs of people sharing the road in front of him.

Continue reading