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Change turf, hear Modi meow

Sagvada (south Rajasthan), Nov. 25: Gujarat is just across the rolling hills skirting this Aravalli settlement. It is drier and dustier over there.

Here, an unusually bountiful monsoon has filled the beels to the brim. Waterfowl are beginning to flock.

The turf is different on either side of the divide.

So different it makes Narendra Modi mellower.

“We went to hear the lion roar,” says Vasudeo Purohit, a sarpanch who led his villagers to Modi’s rally over the weekend. “It meowed.”

Many at the Mahipal Higher Secondary School ground, where Modi took the dais, returned wondering what happened to the fire in the belly.

Sample the Modispeak at Sagvada:

“Ashok Gehlot says he will not let Rajasthan become another Gujarat,” Modi took note of the Rajasthan chief minister’s promise to put down fundamentalist ire. “What a laugh! He cannot. Fact is, he cannot turn Rajasthan into Gujarat. Gehlot will need a massive chest, size 46 inches. He is a frail man.”

“Look at the roads in Gujarat — much better than Gehlot has given you here. During the drought, I ordered my officials to give you relief. When your people are sick, you bring them to Ahmedabad to be treated.”

The theme recurs in Banswara, in Dungarpur, in all across tribal south Rajasthan.

Note: No Hindutva.

The turf is different.

In the elections in Gujarat last year, the Congress was playing on Modi’s political turf. He set the agenda — Hindutva. He called the shots. He was proactive, the others only reacted. That, above all else, was the biggest indicator in the run-up to the polls that the BJP was headed for a landslide.

In the wash of that poll, Rajasthan was shaken. The BJP’s Kanakmal Katara won the bypoll from Sagvada riding the saffron surge. The Congress had never lost in Sagvada, save in 1977.

Across tribal Rajasthan’s 36 constituencies, the BJP is this time bringing up the rear. This is solid Congress belt. The tribals, mostly Meenas and Bhils, have voted for the Congress as if out of habit. If the BJP has to make a breach in the Congress’ backyard, it must be here.

But the BJP is reacting to Gehlot and his plank: development.

Shankar Lal Dahima, a Meena tribal in Dambarvada, says: “We wanted roads. There is a road here now so that you could come. I do not know how making a hue and cry about Muslims and Pakistan will get us roads.”

Indeed the winner of the election here is a phenomenon called vikas. In a refreshing departure from the last bout polling, vikas is truly the dominant theme in the electioneering. So unputdownable that even Modi has to jettison Hindutva from his spiel.

As Gehlot built roads and the monsoon made famine relief easier, Hindutva has spiralled downwards. Even an optimistic assessment — by Raj Singh Dungarpur for instance — gives the BJP only two out of nine seats in the Wagar region. This is so despite the BJP dividing the responsibility of campaigning in tribal south Rajasthan among activists from its Gujarat units.

In Bhuchiyavada village, Dhanya Ram, a Bhil, gives this perception of last year’s tumult in Gujarat: “The mills were closed. The workers did not have jobs so the parties got people to kill one another.” Hindutva is seen as disruptive force.

The BJP would like to believe otherwise. In Banswara, at the party’s election office, Naresh Purohit, a lawyer, believes: “Hindutva is subterranean. We do not have to talk about it in public.”

Modi did rake up the Gehlot government’s banning of Praveen Togadia’s trident distribution campaign. It does not carry much recall value among those who attended his rallies. In Modi’s wake, what is retained by the audience is how closely the people of this part of Rajasthan interact with Gujarat.

But that is a matter of geography. Ahmedabad is less than a three-hour drive from here, Jaipur about seven hours.

Geography can be a poor substitute for politics when the turf is different.

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