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Villagers smitten with Modi

- Compliments tempered by reason and caste loyalties

Jaunpur/Lalganj, May 11: Jaunpur is the gateway to eastern Uttar Pradesh and seems to be as taken in by Narendra Modi as Sultanpur and Pratapgarh in neighbouring Avadh.

Lalganj, a little over 100km to the east of Jaunpur, too has nice things to say about the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. But the compliments are tempered by reason, caste loyalties and individual allegiances.

In the centre of the road from Jaunpur to Lalganj rests Varanasi that will put to test the BJP and Modi’s long-drawn and concentrated campaign to project a chief minister from a far away western state as the country’s great white hope.

As the 18 seats of Poorvanchal vote tomorrow and wrap up Uttar Pradesh’s six-phase electioneering, other big leaders too are faced with stakes: Aam Admi Party (AAP) founder Arvind Kejriwal has taken on Modi, earned the honorific of a “braveheart”, conducted a campaign that has caused heartburn in the BJP and is being seen by Varanasi’s liberals as a long-term potential replacement for the Congress.

“I am stunned by the methodical way in which AAP worked. Their volunteers stood out on the roads with their brooms (the AAP symbol) in the blistering heat and went door-to-door, convincing people why Kejriwal was a more honourable choice than Modi. Our workers sat in air-conditioned rooms, waiting on ‘netas’ (leaders). They woke up at the last minute when they sensed that AAP had forged ahead in personal connectivity and started calling on voters,” admitted an office-bearer of the BJP’s youth wing.

Modi’s brush with the Election Commission and his tactics of driving in a motorcade through Varanasi’s most-choked localities without actually connecting with people nonetheless galvanised the BJP cadres.

The workers claimed they were “so rejuvenated” that they would pull out voters to the booths tomorrow. However, as in the rest of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is relying here too on the “Modi wave” to see it through.

AAP’s strategy was based on a categorisation of the electors into A, B and C: A denoting “Apne” (ours), B “begaane” (not ours) and C, “confused”.

Those from slot A were used as volunteers and booth managers. But C was recognised as a specific political category that AAP worked on assiduously as it did on a grouping in Delhi that did not want to vote either the Congress or the BJP.

Mulayam Singh Yadav is fighting his second election from Azamgarh and his attempting to regroup a frayed Yadav base and pull the Muslims back to the Samajwadi Party instead of letting their votes disperse as they did in large parts of western and central Uttar Pradesh.

A foray into eastern Uttar Pradesh revealed certain trends:

The BJP has largely managed to recover its upper caste votes. To such an extent that even the Brahmins of Jaunpur, who have the potential to tip scales, maintained they had “no issues” with voting the BJP’s Thakur candidate, K.P. Singh. The historical Brahmin-Thakur animosity had spilled over into the political arena in the past.

However, a chunk of Jaunpur’s Thakur votes is going to an Independent contender, Dhananjay Singh. Despite his criminal antecedents, he is seen as a Robin Hood of sorts in these parts.

Modi aage hai (Modi is ahead),” said 75-year-old Ganga Prasad Mishra of Jaunpur’s Hariharpur village. Although the BSP and the Congress have fielded Brahmin candidates, Subhash Pandey and Ravi Kishan Shukla, Mishra rejected Pandey on the ground that he “abhorred” the Mayawati regime for allegedly using the Dalit Act to “victimise” the Brahmins. The Congress’s Shukla was not seen as a player.

As in 1991, that marked the BJP’s ascendancy in Uttar Pradesh, its capital seemed to be as much drawn from the support of the backward castes and Dalits as the Brahmins, Thakurs and Banias.

At Jaunpur’s Sighawal village, Mahagu Ram, a daily wager and a backward caste Nishad (traditionally fishermen), said: “We are disgusted with the Congress, Samajwadi and the BSP. Modi has promised to burnish the country like Gujarat, let’s give him a chance.”

Almost every village has migrants to Gujarat. Those like Balkishan Tiwari of Singramau, who spent five years driving an auto-rickshaw in Surat, fed others with stories of uninterrupted power supply, good roads and a marked absence of crime.

But the “Modi factor” was not the critical determinant in Lalganj, a Left-socialist borough that voted the BSP in the last three Lok Sabha elections.

R.N. Rai, a tyre dealer and a Samajwadi worker, candidly said: “I am fed up with the BSP’s sitting MP. I am fed up with our candidate (Bechehi Saroj).”

Bechehi Saroj, an MLA, did “nothing”, said Rai. “This time the BJP has put up a fresh face (Neelam Sonkar), so why not give her a chance? Modiis not a yardstick for me because I am looking at local problems,” he added.

Wherever there was a viable non-BJP option, Muslims rooted for it: if it was Kejriwal in Varanasi, in Lalganj it was the Samajwadi. Habibur Rehman Qasmi, a teacher at the Jamia Faise-Ulm in Deogaon, said: “The Samajwadi’s the best bet because its workers are helpful. Those in the BSP humiliate Muslims when Mayawati is in power. We were no doubt disturbed when the Muzaffarnagar violence happened and Samajwadi leaders made strange statements. But the more I learnt about the violence from sources other than the media, the more I was convinced that there were grey areas and the Samajwadi government was not entirely to blame.” The explanation seemed more like a piece to convince himself about the Samajwadi because there were also Muslims who felt the party had not acquitted itself honourably through the Muzaffarnagar phase.

Jaunpur, Varanasi, Lalganj and Azamgarh vote on May 12.


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