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Rally brigade bucks the trend
Front rows for pay-see crowd

Twenty cars stood bumper to bumper in front of the Calcutta Ladies’ Golf Club on Wednesday afternoon, waiting for police to guide them to their designated parking spots.

Some of the men in these cars adjusted their ties and checked their smartphones as they alighted, followed by ladies sporting fancy shades.

As the group walked towards the greens, it could have been a scene straight out of a club gathering. But this wasn’t your usual race-day or weekend golfing crowd. The people who had just arrived were participants in a political rally on the Brigade Parade Ground.

Narendra Modi’s Jan Chetna Rally saw people from various walks of life throng the venue where Mamata Banerjee had held a typically massive Trinamul rally a few days ago.

RARE SIGHT: Cars queue up to enter the rally venue, armed with passes for hot seats at the Brigade. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Sandip Jain, an assistant manager with a stock broking firm, was surprised to see faces he had never expected to spot at a political rally. “I have followed Trinamul and Left Front rallies on television and these people don’t look like they have ever been part of those,” said the 32-year-old, who took leave from work to attend Modi’s rally.

The crowd had started milling well before noon, almost three hours before the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister took the mike. Many in the gathering had paid for passes — unprecedented in a state where money is spent on getting people to attend rallies — or were carrying invitation cards routed through various chambers of commerce.

The “guests” mostly entered the Brigade from the southern side, where space had been earmarked away from the greens to park their chauffeured cars.

Supporters from the districts took the northern gate to enter the Brigade.

A middle-aged policeman who has seen several political rallies over 20 years of service was among those taken aback by the demography of the crowd.

“Some of them look like they have come to attend a social programme rather than a political rally,” quipped the sub-inspector, standing guard at the makeshift entrance on the southern periphery.

Aditya Bansal took long strides towards the seating area, eager to find a seat as close to the dais as possible. He texted some friends who were already there to give him directions.

Aditya was carrying an envelope bearing the “invitation card” that he purchased last week for Rs 1,000. “I am a big fan of NaMo (Narendra Modi) and I am here to listen to him,” said the 22-year-old resident of Howrah, who is due to appear for his chartered accountancy final exam this year.

“To me, Modiji represents hope for a prosperous nation in which every youth has a job and each citizen has access to basic amenities,” said Aditya, a former student of St. Xavier’s College.

David Roy, a 26-year-old market researcher, skipped lunch to listen to Modi. “I have watched videos of his speeches on YouTube. Today, he was so close to my office (on Shakespeare Sarani) that I couldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing and hearing him live,” he said.

On January 30, the Trinamul Congress had held a rally at the same venue. On February 9, the Left Front will be holding one there.

“At Trinamul and CPM rallies, the front rows are either reserved for party leaders or workers carrying flags and shouting party slogans to energise the rest of the crowd,” a Trinamul member said.

On Wednesday, nobody in the front rows held a flag or a placard. They sat and intently heard Modi’s every word.

“The front rows were reserved for guests and people who had registered online and purchased invites to hear Modiji. Most of the people who occupied those seats were businessmen, professionals and students,” said a BJP leader.

Many in the first few rows were in suits, never mind the blazing sun. Cops on duty at the entrances said they had never had an easier rally day. “Normally, there is an undercurrent of tension between the police and the crowd at such meetings. Today, a substantial section of the crowd was very different,” a senior police officer said.

address ahmedabad to alimuddin: a motley crowd for modi

The Brigade Parade Ground saw on Wednesday faces usually not spotted at political rallies in Calcutta. Some of them had logged in to buy tickets to the best seats in the house, others flaunted guest cards for the rows just behind the paid seats. Thousands of others walked in and stood patiently in the sun outside the barricaded area to hear Narendra Modi speak. Many of them were BJP supporters, but some appeared far removed from the hustle and bustle of politics. Metro spoke to a few of the rallyists

David Roy
Market research analyst

This engineer and MBA turned into a Modi supporter after a visit to Ahmedabad in 2011. “When I commute between my home in Kalyani and office on Shakespeare Sarani every day, I see the poor state of roads and my mind wanders back to Gujarat,” he said.

David skipped lunch on Wednesday to hear the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister speak. He believes Modi can do for the country what he did for Gujarat.

“I was impressed with the way solar energy is used in Ahmedabad to light up the streets. It isn’t a pilot project at one place. In many places across Ahmedabad, I saw solar panels installed above the drains. These act as covers for the drains and also reduce the use of conventional electricity,” he said.

Akanksha Rai
Doctor at Howrah District Hospital

Akanksha was at the rally with her family of long-time BJP loyalists. But for her, Modi’s personality was the deciding factor rather than the party he represents. “His is a strong personality. He has risen from a humble background and his story is a source of inspiration for me,” she said. “I had to come here and hear Modi speak about his plans for the country if he becomes the Prime Minister.”

Nani Poddar
Garments trader

He lives in Mamata Banerjee’s Kalighat but his heart beats for Modi. On Wednesday, Poddar kept his shop closed to attend the BJP rally. “I have a small shop and even half a day of business is important to me. I will hear Modi speak for some time and leave,” said Poddar, a BJP member since 1996.

So did he come out of a sense of duty towards the BJP? “Nobody forced us to be here. There was no pressure on us…. We came out of love,” he said.

Nine members of Together We Can, an NGO run by young professionals in Calcutta, managed to meet Narendra Modi after the rally and give a presentation on youth-oriented programmes focusing on education, women’s empowerment, rural employment and sanitation. “For the past month we have been in touch with the Gujarat chief minister’s office in Gandhinagar to seek an appointment with him. He is the first politician whom we met to discuss our plans. He gave a patient hearing and sounded very positive,” said Sumit Bhatt, a trustee of Together We Can.

Rituparna Raj
Student at Bankura Medical College

Rituparna came to the ground with mother Subha, a lawyer at Calcutta High Court, and two other family members. She said many of her friends in college were Modi supporters, though not necessarily a vote bank for the BJP!

“His support base among young people is growing every day,” she said.

Haji Abdul Hannan Mullick
Ex-CPM supporter

He remains a resident of Alimuddin Street but is no longer a CPM supporter. Mullick joined the BJP’s minority cell in 1996, and with the change in political allegiance came a change of tone.

“If the BJP is communal, every other party is communal,” he said on the sidelines of Modi’s call to Delhi from the Brigade Parade Ground.

Satish Chandra Saxena
Retired corporate boss

A former managing director of Tata Martrade International Logistics Ltd, Saxena has been a BJP supporter and a Modi admirer.

“I like Modi for his quick decision-making. Besides, he is transparent. There is no corruption in his government,” he said a little after the BJP leader had spoken.

Saxena said he was happy with Modi’s focused speech. “He wasn’t wayward. He was precise.”