The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Allahabad MP spins ‘Bangalore of north’ dream

Allahabad, April 15: Leo was the ascendant in the eastern horizon signifying Simha “lagna”. Simha or Leo, the sign of stability in Indian astrology, is ruled by the Sun, which was positioned in the ninth house, indicating good fortune. Mars, which rules the house of luck, was also well positioned. The lord of the fifth house — the house of speculation — Jupiter, as well as Saturn and Rahu were also benignly placed. It was 2.14 pm on Thursday.

At this astrologically propitious moment, Murli Manohar Joshi, Union minister of education, science and technology in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, filed his nomination for the Allahabad parliamentary seat. He had earlier gone and prayed at a temple and then met supporters at his residence.

A visibly relaxed Joshi sat on a flat bed, dressed in starched white kurta and a dhoti with a bright red and gold border. In front of him was a large statue of Krishna playing the flute, two idols of Lord Ganesh and a brass image of Radha and Krishna under a tree laden with fruits. To his right was a terracotta wall mural showing all the 12 signs of the zodiac. Joshi wore two large rings and his right wrist was swathed in red and yellow “moli” thread tied for protection against evil.

He answered phone calls from well wishers, shifting from Hindi to Urdu to Sanskrit. Swami Rambhadracharya called him from Chitrakoot. “Pranamami aham (I bow before you),” Joshi greeted him and then on being wished luck said: “Upkritam. Upkritam. Anugrihitam asmi (Obliged. Obliged. I am grateful).”

When someone congratulated him on his easy shift from Urdu to Sanskrit, he said with a beatific smile: “These are all our languages.”

Joshi’s wife sat next to him talking about the family’s links with the Muslim community. “In a meeting of Muslims I recalled that my father, A.K. Pandey, was the home minister of the Nawab of Rampur. The Nawab had only one son, Mickey Mian, and was afraid that he might be poisoned. So he sent the six-month-old baby to Almora where my mother suckled him,” she said. She claimed Muslim shopkeepers refused to take payment from her for goods bought and the money had to be forced on them.

Joshi himself claimed that he was on the best of terms with the community, which according to unofficial estimates accounts for 11 per cent of the vote in Allahabad and the adjoining constituency of Chail. “Those who wanted a nation on the basis of religion went to Pakistan and became mohajirs. The rest are Indians. Our ancestry is the same. We are coparcerners of the Hindu undivided family,” Joshi claimed.

The BJP is re-inventing itself during this election as a moderate party that stands for communal harmony. Its ability to talk at the level of Indianness as a geographical and civilisational concept, while its cadre remain deeply communal allows it to attempt to get the best of both worlds.

Joshi dismissed the confrontation between his ministry and the Indian institutes of management and the almost regular leak of examination papers as non-issues, waving his bejewelled hand.

“The fee reduction is not even an issue in Gujarat,” he declared. The Supreme Court in a judgment, Joshi said, had asked the states to rationalise the fee in private institutions to prevent the commercialisation of education. “Now, if we are asked to do that in private institutions, why can’t we do so in our own institutions'” he asked.

“As for the leak of examination papers, the cases were higher earlier. I have, in fact, cancelled exams, ordered CBI inquiries and set processes in motion to have online distribution of examination papers,” Joshi claimed.

At his public rally outside the district magistrate’s office, none of these issues figured in his speech. Joshi instead talked of development and his own record as an MP.

He criticised the Samajwadi Party for not doing anything for the poor. “Kidnapping and ransom have become an industry. Cheating in examinations is being encouraged. In the committee set up to oversee UP’s development, there isn’t a single farmer or a backward caste person. They are all capitalists from Mumbai and Calcutta who have never seen a village. How this must pain Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia’s soul in heaven!” he exclaimed to public applause.

Joshi promised he would make Allahabad the Bangalore of north India. He worked the crowd by constantly asking them questions. A policeman standing nearby said: “Adhyapak hain na. Janata ki class le rahen hain (He is a teacher. He is lecturing the public).”

Only May 5, the day of polling, will show whether he is a good teacher. Joshi is being given a tough fight by the Samajwadi candidate, Reotiraman Singh. In 1999, Joshi’s lead over Singh was by 70,331 votes. Joshi’s supporters believe that the lead will increase this time. Others are less sanguine. With Uttar Pradesh Speaker Kesrinath Tripathi contesting from next door Machhalishahar, many BJP workers have moved there to organise his election and unlike last time, there is a Samajwadi government in the state.

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