These are interesting times in Lucknow. The city has witnessed the closure of yet another book shop. Revised text books by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) with Mughal history deleted from the syllabus have been accepted by the ruling party, and the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Board of High School and Intermediate.

A court has set free 41 men accused of religious violence 36 years ago causing anguish to eye-witnesses still alive and to all those who lost family members in the 1987 Maliana massacre in district Meerut.

Uttar Pradesh is also in the grip of election fever as preparations for the local body polls are in full swing. Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and main leader of Opposition in the state, Akhilesh Yadav received the Padma Vibhushan award on behalf of his late father and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, conferred by President Droupadi Murmu in Delhi last Wednesday.

Hazratgunj’s British Book Depot

The kilometre long shopping street Hazratganj was laid out in imitation of London’s Oxford Street more than a 100 years ago. Once upon a time it was the centre of classy commercial, as well as cultural activities and the second home of most Lucknowites.

With glass door restaurants, cafes, a cinema house and rows of shops, the hi-fashion street wore a colonial look only till a few decades after independence from the British in 1947. Gradually runaway traffic and an unending stream of crowds reduced the neighbourhood to just another chaotic street in any other town in UP.

The British Book Depot was a temple of learning that had stood in Hazratganj since 1930. Most of us learnt to love books at the same shop. Reading became an addiction beginning with Archie Comics, Enid Blyton, Mills and Boons and graduating to more philosophical reads later on in life.

Ram Advani Booksellers had pulled down its shutters a few years ago, and now this 90 year old institution has also been forced to call it a day.

Suraj Prakash Kakkar is now 83 years old. He grew up in the midst of books encouraged by his father and founder of the shop Shanti Prakash Kakkar. Suraj had started working at the shop in the 1960s. A father of three daughters who no longer live in Lucknow, it became impossible for Kakkar to continue to run the bookshop by himself.

Having closed the shop, now he sits at home surrounded by many bundles of unsold books. The plan is to donate the books to schools and libraries in the hope that none is ever deprived of books as people without books are like a room without a window.

Mughal Mania

While on books, it has come to pass that the history books revised by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for Class XII will no longer include chapters on the Mughal Empire. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently announced that the syllabus for Class XII has been revised and chapters like ‘Kings and Chronicles’ and ‘The Mughal Courts’ have been removed from the history books of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Boards.

The decision of the NCERT to omit the Mughals from history books used by school children is acceptable to the UP Boards and welcomed by the ruling party.

Uttar Pradesh’s Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak said that the country’s ancient civilisation, traditions and culture are a heritage and the government wants the present generation to have a fair knowledge and understanding about the ancient glory. “Since independence the people of India have been kept in the dark about the ancient Indian culture and heritage and we will undo the historical wrong,” he added.

For the same reason, lessons on democracy and diversity, popular struggles and movements and challenges to democracy have been removed from text books of Class X. The Class XI text book on world history will no longer have chapters titled ‘The Central Islamic lands’, ‘Confrontation of Cultures’ and ‘The Industrial Revolution’ this academic year. The NCERT will also revise the Class XII Civics textbook and remove chapters titled 'American Hegemony in World Politics', 'The Cold War Era’, ‘The Rise of Popular Movements’, ‘Era of One-Party Dominance’ and ‘Politics in India Since Independence’.

This way the Class XII students will not get to study the dominance of the Congress Party, Socialist Party, Communist Party of India, Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the Swatantra Party.

The NCERT had announced the changes in 2022, which will be implemented this academic session.

Mayoral Magic

Political parties in the state are rolling up their sleeves to contest the civic elections. The post of the mayor in Prayagraj, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Aligarh, Bareilly, Moradabad, Ayodhya and Mathura is unreserved, and waiting to be contested. Once the seat of the mayor of Prayagraj was reserved for women but no longer.

Out of 17 seats for the mayor’s post, Lucknow, Kanpur and Ghaziabad are still reserved for women and the outgoing mayor Sanyukta Bhatia of the ruling party is already lobbying for her daughter-in-law Reshu to take over from her in Lucknow.

Agra is reserved for a woman from the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Firozabad is reserved for a woman from Other Backward Castes (OBC).

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) head Mayawati presided over a meeting last week after a long time. Party leaders and workers were warned against SP’s efforts to use Kanshiram’s name to woo Dalit votes and win elections.

This was in reference to SP chief Akhilesh Yadav who had unveiled a statue of Dalit leader and BSP founder Kanshiram at an event hosted by SP general secretary Swami Prasad Maurya at Rae Bareli’s Mahamaya Nagar school recently. That reach out to Dalits by the SP has made Mayawati see red.

In a fiery address to the party cadre, she asked them to get urban voters on the side of the BSP for the soon-to-be-announced civic polls. Blaming the SP for the rise of the ruling party, she said that the Dalit voter was solidly behind the BSP.

It is SP voters who shift loyalties and that is the main reason for the ruling party’s success in the state. The BSP is the only party that can stop the ruling party from winning elections, said Mayawati. The BSP will contest the civic polls on its own and as soon as the date is announced, political parties will declare names of respective contestants.

An estimated 4.23 crore voters will exercise their right to franchise in the civic polls which is the last big test of the mood of the urban electorate before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Maliana Massacre

After 34 years had passed without any progress in the Maliana massacre case, senior journalist Qurban Ali filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in 2021, together with retired Indian Police Service officer Vibhuti Narain Rai, a former director general of the UP police.

It may be recalled that in May 1987 riots had erupted in district Meerut when the Pradeshik Armed Constabulary (PAC) had arrived, and according to eyewitnesses had killed 72 citizens, mostly Muslim.

The PIL had also asked for a fair and speedy trial, and decent compensation for the families of the victims. Instead the court order has acquitted the surviving 41 people accused of the crime.

The fear is that the state government may get the court to close the case. The people of Maliana who saw it all and saw who murdered their loved ones are pained at the verdict and will challenge it in the Allahabad High Court.

To Delhi To Delhi

Meanwhile, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav was in Delhi to receive the Padma Vibhushan award last Wednesday from the President Droupadi Murmu. He accepted the award on behalf of his late father, the founder of the SP and former Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Although his followers feel that Neta Ji Mulayam Singh Yadav deserved the Bharat Ratna instead. The Padma Vibhushan or lotus decoration is the second most prestigious, but the Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award in the country.