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Into the heart of India

Soutik Biswas | 16:24 UK time, Saturday, 25 April 2009

BBC India Election Train in HaryanaThree hours into our journey and we have already been mobbed by the crowds. We made an unscheduled stop at Rewari, some 80km from Delhi in neighbouring Haryana state, when a motley group of local passengers waiting at the station spotted our unusual train and surged forward. The excitement was palpable. "What is it this? A new train? What route?" a man shouted.

As my colleagues stepped out with their mikes and cameras to record the experience, the frisson increased. Haryana is one of the more industrially developed states in the country, but casteism is the bane of social progress in these parts too. I asked a wizened man who stood near our carriage whether caste and kin affiliations of a candidate mattered more than his capacity to deliver the goods during the polls. He was fiercely argumentative. "Look," he said, visibly irritated. "I have lived here, in the countryside, all my life, but I have never voted on the basis of caste. I have always voted on the basis of development. This time too, I will vote for the candidate who promises more development."

Clearly, development has never been a bigger issue at the Indian elections than this time around. I look out of my window and realise why. There are Indias which are pulling ahead and there are Indias which are lagging behind. People are impatient for speedier change.

There is no better way to gauge the rhythms of the heart of India than from a railway journey. Within an hour of leaving a station in Delhi, I witness a kaleidoscope of the many Indias from my window. Garbage-infested shantytowns which straddle railroad tracks segue into a spanking new airport coming up on the outskirts of Delhi. An impossibly long line of stationary goods trains carrying shiny new Suzuki cars from a local factory merge into a hick town railway station splashed with advertisements hawking sex potions, an anti-foeticide campaign and even a local vet. Gaudily coloured row houses and high rises dot the view, which was not so long ago dominated by a dull landscape of vast swathes of dusty farms.

With dusk falling over the countryside, we rolled out of Rewari. People at crowded railway crossings gaped at our red-and-white train. It slowly trundled past squat railway colonies where children played precariously close the tracks and elders sipped tea on rope beds. We are travelling into the heart of many Indias. Already.

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