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Poll box-office formula: wave more, speak less

Manoj Tiwari campaigns in Delhi. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, April 8: A tricolour band around his head, Bhojpuri star-cum-BJP candidate Manoj Tiwari trundles through the narrow by-lanes of Gokulpuri in an e-rickshaw.

This area, in the North East Delhi constituency, is far removed from the capital city of glitzy flyovers and metro trains. Here it is all about open drains and countless potholes. The people are mainly migrants from western Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar and Meerut districts.

Tiwari — he traces his roots to Purvanchal in eastern Uttar Pradesh — smiles and waves at the people peeking from balconies or standing near the gates. He starts his speech with “gor lagatani (I respectfully touch your feet)” and sings a Bhojpuri song from his blockbuster Daroga Babu I Love You. The actor accepts an occasional garland from BJP workers standing en route. He has been asked by the party not to talk too much because the people are mainly from western Uttar Pradesh.

“He was chosen for the North East constituency because of its predominant Purvanchali vote. But not everyone in the seat is from Purvanchal. Tiwari is having trouble understanding this. He ends up talking to everyone, whether Punjabi or from western UP, in chaste Bhojpuri or Hindi with a Bhojpuri twang,” a BJP official said.

The actor is struggling to shrug off the “outsider” tag too. “Who says I am an outsider? In 1992, my struggle to become a singer started from Delhi. When I finally made it as a singer, I spent my first savings to buy a house in south Delhi.

“I have another house in Dwarka in South West Delhi and now I have rented a two-bedroom apartment in Yamuna Vihar in my constituency,” he says.

Tiwari had contested the last Lok Sabha elections on a Samajwadi Party ticket from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. He lost the election. He terms that stint an “innocent mistake”.

“Since then, I have proven my loyalty by working for the BJP for the last five years as a star pracharak. I have campaigned in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and many other places.”

Tiwari says he will cut down on the number of film assignments. “I used to do 10-12 films in a year, but now I will only do one or two. Ten months in a year I will dedicate to public service alone.”

The voters appear dewy-eyed as Tiwari’s battery-operated vehicle passes by. “I heard his cassettes for the first time at my in-laws’ place after my wedding. I just fell in love with his voice. And today I got to see him,” said Mithlesh Gupta, who hails from Kanpur.

The pro-BJP sentiment is strong in Gokulpuri, where the party’s Ranjeet Singh won the Assembly seat last December. And the people seem ready to discount the “outsider” factor.

Phool par koyi bhi khada ho, kya pharak padta hai? Chahe Bihari ho ya Kashyap ya Gupta, hum vote toh phool ko hi denge (How does it matter who is contesting for the lotus? Whether he is Bihari, Kashyap or Gupta, our vote will go to the lotus),” said Jagmal Singh, a resident of Gokulpuri.

Despite being an “outsider”, Tiwari has been given a seat where the BJP did well in the December Delhi elections. Of its 10 Assembly segments, the BJP had won five.

The North East constituency has the highest number of Purvanchali voters in Delhi. Close to 6.7 lakh people trace their roots to eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. At the same time, 25 per cent of the voters are Muslim.

To counter Tiwari’s Purvanchali roots, the Aam Aadmi Party has fielded Anand Kumar. He teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University and has lived in Delhi for the last 30 years. He moved out of hometown Varanasi after enrolling in the MA programme at JNU.

“The voters know that Manoj Tiwari has been parachuted to the constituency. Once the elections are over, he will not be traceable. And even to bring him here, they will have to arrange a five-star hotel and take care of his whims,” Uday Sahay, an AAP worker helping with Kumar’s campaign, said.

The AAP is also banking on Muslim votes, which have been tilting towards it. .

The incumbent MP is the Congress’s J.P. Agarwal. He won the seat for the first time in 2009 by a margin of over 2 lakh votes. But in December, the Congress managed to win only two Assembly seats.

Agarwal is fighting on the development plank. His son Mudit says: “There is no resentment against my father since he has been in regular touch with the people in the last five years.”

However, insiders in the Agarwal camp concede that anti-Congress sentiment is set to hurt them. Besides, Agarwal has not been able to deliver much in the name of development.

North East Delhi votes on April 10