Mahaveer Tiwari started out as a Congress voter and a die-hard votary of the Nehru-Gandhis, got disillusioned and ended up as a Samajwadi in the twilight of his life, spent in the company of his son and granddaughters.
One of them, Umeesha, a Class VIII student of Good Shepherd’s Convent, said she has been trying hard to persuade her “Baba” (granddad) to vote for the BJP and, more to the point, Narendra Modi in these elections.
“My friends and I are Modiji’s fans, we think he is extraordinary and the country must vote him in as Prime Minister. If I had a vote, it would have gone to him. But Baba won’t listen,” says Umeesha.
Even Tiwari, an 85-year-old newspaper agent at Kamlapur town in Sitapur Lok Sabha constituency, 90km from Lucknow, grudgingly admits that “Modi has resurrected a comatose BJP in Uttar Pradesh”.
Away from the spartan home of the Tiwaris, nearly 165km away, Modi is a celebrity at Kanpur’s Z Square Mall. Each of the complex’s three floors has a smart board splattered with messages, urging people to vote for Modi. The BJP’s Kanpur candidate, Murli Manohar Joshi, doesn’t merit a mention.
The first set of seats in Avadh, the heart of Uttar Pradesh, votes on Wednesday amid a palpable pro-Modi wave that has swept the region in a replay of the surge witnessed for the Samajwadi Party in the 2012 state elections. The BJP is in the fight everywhere: mostly against the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party and, in a few places, against the Congress.
Modi means different things to different voters.
Piyush Sharma, a young Kanpur publisher, says he hopes Modi would usher in prohibition throughout the country. “Alcoholism is the biggest problem for us. Families are driven to poverty, violence and desperation because of alcohol. I have been to Gujarat and I am convinced that the reason its society is stable and peaceful is because there’s total prohibition. I hope Modi extends it nationally,” says Sharma, refusing to listen to the fact that the Gujarat government had recently relaxed norms for tourists and overseas visitors, seeking booze permits, principally to keep investors happy.
To Gaurav Gupta, a trader in Sidhauli town in Mohanlalganj Lok Sabha constituency, Modi symbolises Hindutva. “I voted Samajwadi in 2012 but uska burner thap ho gaya (its burner has got extinguished). My family is still faithful to the Samajwadi Party but I am going against them and voting Modi because it’s time Hindus too consolidate politically.”
In the Yadav village of Sultanpur, which falls under the Barabanki parliamentary seat, the voters’ fundamentals were clear. Yadavs they were but they claimed they were ditching Mulayam Singh Yadav for Modi.
Anoop Yadav, a political science student at Barabanki’s Jawahar College, explained why. “The Gujarat model has been propagated successfully. What appealed to me is how secure women and one’s wealth are in Gujarat. Women can wear a lot of jewellery and yet travel alone on a scooty after midnight. Here in my state, as I am speaking with you, there’s no guarantee that somebody will not walk away with your handbag. This is Modi’s model and the country badly needs it,” he says.
For Kanpur bookseller Vignesh Tiwari, who for long was torn between the Congress and the BJP, the clinchers were a conversation at a recent wedding in Ghatampur, his hometown, and his wife “turning political” because of Modi.
“At the wedding, the talk was about Modi. People contrasted him with Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi and I returned convinced that we needed a decisive PM. Then last week, I found my wife glued to the TV when Modi’s interview was telecast. Normally, she never watches news. Later, she told me our family must vote Modi.”
Om Pathak, a former Uttar Pradesh bureaucrat based in Lucknow, summed up the Modi syndrome. “Sometimes, an idea takes the shape of an individual. Modi is a manifestation of that. People mostly vote for an individual who belongs to a political party. This time, they are voting for a party that seems to belong to an individual.”
Sitapur, Mohanlalganj and Barabanki vote on April 30