Narendra Modi with Murli Manohar Joshi at a rally. (PTI)
At 7.30 in the morning, as the sun beats down mercilessly on stuffy, congested Kanpur, Murli Manohar Joshi looks a trifle wan and tries hard not to let the smile fall off his face.
His Tuesday drill begins with a nukkad (street-corner) interaction with the residents of Tezaab Mill Campus. The middle-class settlement takes its name from an eponymous acid-producing plant that existed on its land 50 years ago and supposedly contaminated its water forever.
Joshi, a former physics professor of Allahabad University, plays his slog overs cautiously because this is a city that has tagged him an “outsider”. He can’t take the electorate lightly. After delivering a mixed innings from three places in Uttar Pradesh, Almora (before it went to Uttarakhand), Allahabad and Varanasi, Joshi had perforce to relocate to Kanpur because Narendra Modi wanted Varanasi for his Lok Sabha debut.
The professor agreed reluctantly. Initially, he wanted to play the game in Kanpur on his terms. His wish was he should not be overwhelmed by the “Modi factor”. He was reportedly peeved by the pro-Modi slogans that presaged his arrival everywhere and didn’t want to be seen with him on posters.
“Like any politician, Joshiji never forgets the past. Modi used to be his chela (follower) when he was the BJP president (in the nineties),” a Kanpur BJP leader said.
Modi did a balancing act for his erstwhile guru. He didn’t come to Kanpur to address a meeting for Joshi, apparently to show his peeve at a statement Joshi made in a TV interview, denying the existence of a “Modi wave” and calling it a “pro-BJP surge” instead.
So last week, when Modi dropped in at Akbarpur — Kanpur’s next-door constituency — to rub the snub in, a chastened Joshi went there. At the rally, Modi vacated an embellished “throne” placed specially for him at the centre of the dais, insisted Joshi be seated on it and touched his feet.
Rajendra Mishra, the Kanpur Congress vice-president, noted gleefully that since that display of a quasi-rapprochement, posters of Joshi hugging Modi sprung up all over Kanpur.
Modi tailed Joshi on the acid mill campus too. The veteran was greeted with cries of “Shehar ka sansad kaisa ho/ Murli Manohar Joshi jaisa ho/ Desh ka PM kaisa ho/ Narendra Modi jaisa ho (how should the MP of our city be/ like Murli Manohar Joshi/ how should the country’s PM be/ like Narendra Modi)”.
Joshi looked irritable as he took his place on a compact dais. Without as much as mentioning “shehar ka sansad”, he launched forth on big issues like GDP figures. “The GDP can’t be equated with development, or rather, the UPA’s version of development. This government tried to put out attractive GDP figures but they look attractive only because a disproportionately small number has become super-rich over the past 10 years.
“The real test of how good the GDP is how much does an ordinary person’s salary fetches him these days. It brings nothing,” he alleged and mentioned the coal block allocation scam, contextualising it in his tenure as the Public Accounts Committee chairperson and the gutter inspector’s role he essayed therein.
“PAC ki lathi chalti thi, beimaano pe, yeh sarkar ke beimaano pe (the PAC’s rod used to be wielded against these rogues, the rogues of this government),” he declared, expectantly awaiting kudos.
But a lady piped in: “Doctor sahab, gas cylinder kee baat karo, paani kee baat karo (Doctor, talk about gas cylinders, water).”
But no. Joshi persisted with coal supposedly to besmirch his closest opponent in Kanpur, coal minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal, who won the seat thrice in a row. “Either Jaiswal is a nikamma (incompetent) or a chor (thief) or both,” he proclaimed to wild claps.
Modi went unmentioned.
At his next stop, outside the imposing but defunct Cawnpore Woollen Mills that turned out the famous and forgotten Lal Imli woollens, Joshi was up against a sullen clutch of workers who haven’t been paid wages since October 2013.
A misstep followed when an exuberant activist of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the RSS’s trade union wing, announced that Veerendra Dubey of the Congress’s INTUC union was joining them in “Doctor sahab’s” presence.
“Murdabad, murdabad, we don’t want dalals (middle-men) and dhokebaaz (deceitful people) like him (Dubey),” the crowd screamed in chorus. Dubey, garlands and all, was whisked away so that Joshi could speak uninterrupted.
But Modi wouldn’t leave Joshi. To mill hands like Sajan Vajpayee, Modi was the only panacea for their problems. “He has done so much development in Ahmedabad and Surat that I am positive he will make Kanpur shine like those cities,” gushed Sajan.
Nobody seemed perturbed by Joshi’s earlier swipes at Modi or because he didn’t invoke his name even once.
Rajesh Tiwari, who runs a coaching centre at the Tezaab Mill Campus, explained: “Joshi is like Modi’s guardian. In a marriage, you can have only one groom. The rest are baraatis (part of the groom’s entourage). So it is with Modi and Joshi. We hope he will be a good number three or four in Modi’s cabinet.”