In the run-up to the 15th Lok Sabha elections in 2009,the Hindustan Times decided to take its
readers up close to grassroots India, and to share the lives and perspective of ordinary Indians—the
people who really matter in an election. India Yatra was probably the biggest national reporting
project of its kind. It spanned more than 23,000 kilometres and 117 constituencies-around
one—fifth of all Lok Sabha constituencies. Fifty-six reporters and the same number of
photographers were sent out on selected routes to explore different themes and convey the concerns
that occupy the people. The exercise showed just how diverse India really is, and how startling its
variety. So that, as Nandan Nilekani points out in his foreword, anyone who claims to ‘know India is
either lying or foolish.
These reports present a picture of the country with remarkable clarity, without getting lost in the
maze of its complexity. As India negotiates this critical period of rising awareness and an intensifying
struggle for access to the benefits of y growth, India Yatra assumes a significance that goes beyond
the immediate reality.
ESELESH MISRA, who conceived the India. Yatra project, is deputy executive editor
at the Hindustan Times. He travels across the country and writes for the paper on issues. As diverse
as Kashmir, land acquisition battles, atomic energy and Bollywood. He was born in 1973 in
Lucknow, completing his education there and in Nainital, and works out of New Delhi.
Neelesh is the author of three books: 173 Hours in Captivity: The Hijacking 0f IC 8l4; The End of
the Line: The Story of the Killing of the Royals in Nepal (both non-fiction books); and Once upon a
Timezone, his first novel. When he is not chasing the news, Neelesh writes Bollywood songs and
pursues his a love of photography.
ZARA MURAO is news editor with the Hindustan Times in Mumbai. A graduate in
literature from Sophia College, University of Mumbai, she earlier worked with the Indian Express,
heading the city desk there and later at HT. She has written several travelogues for both newspapers
and worked on a number of special series.
India Yatra (an Indian journey) was probably the biggest national reporting project of its kind
attempted by any newspaper, spanning more than 23,000 kilometres across 117 constituencies,
approximately one in five of all lower house constituencies.
As the run-up to the world’s greatest electoral show, India’s 15th Lok Sabha elections, began, we
decided to take our readers up close for a firsthand look at grassroots India-at people who are often
left behind in the poll—time scramble that is typically dominated by politicians.
We decided to take our readers to the people who should matter. India Yatra was a sprawling
medley of journeys and reportage across the length and breadth of the country, a collection of stories
on what has changed in this overwhelmingly young nation over the past five years—told through the
experiences and lives of ordinary people. In the run-up to the national elections, it tried to look at
politics in the world’s largest democracy through a totally new prism—writing about politics without
meeting a single politician.
Instead, 29 reporters and 27 photographers were sent out on small journeys across the country on
pre—designated routes to explore different themes and create a vast jigsaw of issues that impact and
shape India’s politics, and the invisible yet powerful voices that make it so.
When the election results came in, these voices were vindicated by the overarching theme of the
mandate that, by and large, the people had voted for those politicians that had a track record of
Few nations are as kaleidoscopic, complex and mind-boggling as India is. Indians are at once among
the world’s richest as well as the poorest; India boasts of being one of the world’s oldest civilizations
as well as being at the cutting-edge of modern research and technology; it is a nation that plays a key
role in playing peace-keeper in conflict- ridden hot-spots across the globe and yet itself struggles to
combat insurgency and separatism within its boundaries; as much as 60 per cent of Indians are under
35 but the average age of the ministers who lead them is 53. These were the contradictions that our
writers and photographers went out and tried to capture.
But India Yatra wasn’t just a documentation of the obvious. It was a portrait of the lives of ordinary
Indians—sometimes triumphant, sometimes frustrated by their lack of access to a world they had
only glimpsed on TV or via the Internet. There were stories about how gleaming highways and brand
new schools were changing lives and aspirations. Tales of the new India, the Maoist India and a
forgotten agrarian India that seemed to have fallen through the cracks.
It was politics narrated through the voices of India’s people, and the response was remarkable.
Letters poured in, readers offering stories of their own and tales of what they hoped for from India’s
new Lok Sabha.
In the end, it became a multi-layered journey across India for our readers themselves. We tried to
bring to them places they would never go to and to meet people they would otherwise have probably
never known about.
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