Indian general elections are local elections too, where local battles are fought and local scores settled. Certainly there was much talk of settling scores and taking revenge at the last Samajwadi Party rally of the campaign in Ghazipur constituency of eastern Uttar Pradesh. These are busy times, there’s the wheat and mustard to be harvested and numberless weddings to be celebrated. Nevertheless, a good sized crowd gathered to hear the national general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, Amar Singh, speak in the small town of Qasimabad.
Needless to say, Amar Singh did not arrive on time but this did not try the patience of the audience, in which there was hardly a woman to be seen. Elderly men wearing traditional kurtas and pyjama trousers with white cotton gamchhas, or scarves, tied loosely round their heads listened attentively to the speakers who came before Amar Singh. The young men were remarkably patient too. Many of them had tied the party’s green and red flags as turbans. There was much laughter every time the BJP, their candidate, or indeed the Prime Minister was mocked. Not one hand went up when the audience was asked “who feels good here'”
The Samajwadi candidate, Afzal Ansari, a tall imposing figure, younger looking than his 50 years, introduced the speakers with vain appeals for brevity. Om Prakash, who lost to the BJP in the last general election, was out to settle scores with his rival, Manoj Sinha, who is standing for the BJP again. “I shall never, until I die, forget those filthy abuses which he heaped on my family,” he bellowed.
“Now the time has come to take revenge. Every time you press the button for Mulayam, the sword will fall on Manoj Sinha. This is the last rally in this campaign, let it be the last nail in the coffin of the BJP.”
Mukhtar Ansari, taller even than his brother, was out to take revenge on the BJP local MLA, Krishna Nand Rai, who’d ended Afzal’s run of five victories in the Assembly elections. There was to be a nail in his coffin too.
Mukhtar was also outraged by the allegations he maintained the BJP was making, saying he and his brother were bin Ladens and would “bring Pakistan”.
Amar Singh was the last speaker. Although hardly a war-like figure, he was presented with a sword which he brandished and a Thakur’s pagri which he donned. In the early days of his comparatively short political career, he was not renowned as a speaker, but he has come on since then. The short bespectacled politician, who hopes to bring the Thakurs into Mulayam’s fold, swore to take revenge for the jailing of Raja Bhaiyya, the MLA arrested under POTA, who has become a cult figure among Thakurs in Uttar Pradesh. “Although he was not our party member, although he was the right hand man of BJP’s Rajnath Singh, only we have fought for Raja Bhaiyya,” thundered Amar Singh.
One thing is clear in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Being charged with grievous offences doesn’t do your credibility any harm. Mukhtar Ansari is facing charges under Tada but was recently released from jail by the Supreme Court which is hearing his appeal against the Tada court sentence. He won the Mau Assembly seat in the last election by a massive 70,000 majority. When I asked him why he was so popular he replied, twiddling his upturned moustache: “I stand up for the poor. If there’s a poor wedding I contribute, I pay for an eye operation, I help get the poor out of jail when they are held on false charges.” When I reminded him he had been dubbed “a mafia” by the press he said: “I don’t mind what anyone says provided I help the poor.”
In the BJP’s office in Ghazipur they attempted to steer me away from the scores the Socialist Party were hoping to settle. They wanted to persuade me they would win the election because India was shining and no earlier government could match Vajpayee’s achievement. When I suggested the local issue of the Samajwadi candidate’s religious affiliation was important for them they denied defaming Afzal or Mukhtar Ansari by calling them bin Laden and warning they would “bring Pakistan”. But the young BJP worker in charge of the media did say, “People are saying these things among themselves about Mukhtar.”
“You haven’t spread this as a rumour'” I asked. “No.”
“So the people are saying this all on their own, without any encouragement'”
“Which is very convenient for you.”
The BJP also denied their MP, Manoj Sinha, had ever insulted his rival’s family. They accused their accuser, Om Prakash, of a more minor verbal assault, maintaining that during the last election campaign he said his rival “had a body like a sack”.
So far, only insults have been traded in this local electoral battle but blows could be traded in the next stage, polling on Monday. On the last day of the most recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly election repolling was ordered in 34 booths. Eighteen of them were in just one section of the Ghazipur constituency.