Girls hold up a poster of Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh at the rally in Kanpur on Saturday. (PTI)
Auraiya (Uttar Pradesh), Oct. 23: Jeetu Yadav, 28, was elected the pradhan of Rannia village in Kanpur Dehat (rural) district on the Samajwadi Party symbol early this year. His agenda was clear.
“I want to develop my village; therefore, I need to keep good relations with the district administration and the state’s ruling party,” he told The Telegraph.
However, the functional equation Jeetu strove to keep with the Samajwadi dispensation did not stop him from attending Narendra Modi’s rally in Kanpur on Saturday.
“Modi is a great leader with a genuine vision for development. You can’t compare him with Akhilesh Yadav (the Uttar Pradesh chief minister),” Jeetu said.
“I was inspired by Modi after I recently visited Baroda. The roads are smooth. The best part was the absence of police from the roads. I didn’t hear the menacing hoots and honks from sarkari cars fitted with red lights. So I have hopes from Modi.”
Chandrabhan Singh, 10 years older than Jeetu and also from Rannia, was in the Samajwadi Party for 11 years, holding local positions. He recently quit to join the BJP. The catalyst was Modi but for another reason.
“The Congress, Samajwadis and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) share a common outlook, which is that if Hindus do something, it is condemnable. If Muslims do the same thing, it is praiseworthy,” Chandrabhan said.
“I saw this attitude at work during the Muzaffarnagar riots. It saddened me and I decided instantly to support Modi. He is the only leader who boldly states he will work for every caste and community without discrimination.”
Some 50km from Rannia, in the town of Auraiya, Dharmendra Singh, 35, left the Samajwadis’ local Lohia Vahini for youths, where he was organising secretary. He says he was “disgusted” at the way Mulayam Singh Yadav had “bailed out” the Congress each time the UPA was in crisis.
“A vote for the Samajwadis (in a Lok Sabha election) is a vote for the Congress. A vote for the BSP is also a vote for the Congress,” said Dharmendra, now an official with the BJP’s youth wing.
He claimed that Modi is not “divisive” like his rivals. “Modi is liked because he has brought peace and harmony to Gujarat. He doesn’t divide like the Congress, Samajwadis and the BSP do.”
The views of Jeetu, Chandrabhan and Dharmendra, random voices heard during a 140km tour through rural Kanpur, Akbarpur, Auraiya and Etawah, suggest a far-reaching change may be happening in the heartland.
This is a stretch known as “Mulayam country” because the Samajwadis have held sway over it, barring occasional interludes. In 2012, the party won every Assembly seat in these parts except for Sikandara, which went to the BSP.
The conclusive victory was enabled by a combination of upper caste, backward caste and Muslim voters that the Samajwadis had managed to forge. That axis is apparently crumbling. Even young Yadavs are drifting towards the BJP — towards Modi, to be precise.
Yogesh Yadav, a 26-year-old trucker from Akbarpur, said he frequently travelled to Gujarat.
“I was not swayed by the Modi propaganda. But I saw the propaganda was not without basis. I come from a family of farmers; so I was amazed to see how in Gujarat, the Narmada waters irrigated villages in far-flung corners and brought prosperity,” Yogesh said.
“The remotest villages have 24x7 electricity unlike Uttar Pradesh, where selective places like Kannauj and Rampur get uninterrupted power because Mulayam’s daughter-in-law (Dimple Yadav) is an MP from Kannauj and his favourite Muslim leader, Azam Khan, is from Rampur. Caste means little to my generation. We will vote for those who work and deliver.”
Closer to Etawah, Mulayam’s home turf, Ranveer Yadav, a college student from Lakhanpur village, warned: “This time Mulayam will taste a big defeat.”
Only Muslim voters unswervingly said they would largely vote for the Samajwadis, despite the Muzaffarnagar violence.
“Seventy per cent of our votes are still with Mulayam; the rest with the BSP,” said Mohammad Muslim, a farmer in Akbarpur.
The Congress did not figure in the discourse although the Akbarpur Lok Sabha seat elected a Congress candidate, Rajaram Pal, in 2009.
Modi’s pull owes to four factors. One, a perception that the UPA government is “rotten”, and that the Samajwadis and the BSP allowed the “rot” to grow.
Two, a belief that Modi is a “strong” leader and “incorruptible”, as his record in Gujarat is “unblemished” and he is not “saddled with family”.
Three, a feeling generated by the Muzaffarnagar violence that the Akhilesh government panders excessively to the minorities. Four, Modi is from a most-backward caste.
Balbir Singh, a farmer from Muhari near Etawah, explained the impact of the Muzaffarnagar violence.
“Muzaffarnagar is far away; yet it broke my heart to hear that the Akhilesh government freed the Muslims who were culpable for the violence and only arrested the local BJP leaders. Is this justice?” he asked.
A cluster of myths has sprouted around Muzaffarnagar, which is closer to New Delhi than to Kanpur or Etawah. One goes like this: Modi aide Amit Shah went to the trouble spot in disguise and distributed food and medicines to Hindu families at a time local leaders Ajit Singh and son Jayant Chaudhary were too “scared” to set foot there.
“We have heard that many of the Hindu victims were Dalit-Jatavs, Mayawati’s core voters. She did not show up. So don’t be surprised if the Jatavs of western Uttar Pradesh vote for Modi this time,” a bureaucrat said in Lucknow.