Gadiya Kachpura village in Uttar Pradesh
Gadiya Kachpura (Kannauj), Feb. 16: Harinath Singh's face glowed with excitement. He had seen Narendra Modi in real life for the first time and from the closest possible distance.
" Chehra ekdum gora hai, aur chamakta hai (His face is totally fair and it glows)," Singh, a backward class marginal farmer, tells those gathered at the teashop near his village. Last Wednesday, Modi addressed a rally in Kannauj, and Harinath had managed to wind his way to the front rows on the military ground.
The five Assembly seats of Kannauj, represented by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav's wife Dimple in the Lok Sabha, will go to polls this Sunday.
At the teashop, Congress leader Tariq Bashir confronts Harinath. He asks whether Modi's "glowing" face will fetch " roti" for Harinath. "Chehra dekhne se roti milega kya?" Tariq asks.
Harinath retorts " roti" is given by "Bhagwan (God)" but it is his dharma to respect a big person like Modi who has come to his place. Harinath points out how the Prime Minister has promised to waive loans of small farmers and ensure potato farmers get a fair price if the BJP comes to power in Uttar Pradesh. "Modiji is such a big man and if he is promising, then we have to believe him," Harinath says.
Tariq, the Congress leader, keeps arguing but Harinath doesn't give in.
Eventually, Bhaiyalal Rathore, a retired teacher, steps in. "You (Tariq) are opposed to Modi and so whatever he (Harinath) says you will not accept," Bhaiyalal says.
The argument ends on a pleasant note with no sign of ill-will. Some point out it is " matdaan (election)" and so each one has his "mat (view)". After tea, Bhaiyalal and Harinath invite this reporter to their village.
The village called Gadiya Kachpura, around 2km from the teashop, is dominated by non-Yadav backward classes in an area regarded as Yadav territory and a stronghold of the ruling Samajwadi Party. The over 500 dwellings are inhabited by residents belonging to castes such as Kushwaha, Kahar, Kaanchi, Dohre, besides a couple of Muslim and Yadav families.
Gadiya Kachpura has electricity, road connectivity and other basic facilities. Most residents acknowledge " vikas hua hai" (development has taken place). They say Kannauj, Mainpuri and Etawah are pocket boroughs of the Yadav family and the association has rewarded the region in terms of development projects.
But some spoke of "one problem".
"Akhilesh has done a lot of work. Farmers are getting electricity and he has built roads. But there is one problem," says Pritam Singh, a Kushwaha.
After a pause, he resumes: "The problem is that one community is being more favoured. The government gives money for the wedding of Muslim girls but not for Hindus. In wazifa (scholarship) too, Muslims get a preference over Hindus."
Amrital a.k.a. Baba, saffron-robed and aged over 60 years, chips in. He claims his old age pension was stopped in 2013 and when he ran from one official to another, he was asked to pay a bribe. He claimed that elderly Muslim men and women get pension without paying any bribe.
Vijay Pratap, a 38-year-old teacher at a government school, says there is no communal tension in the region that has never seen any communal flare-up. "The villagers are upset over one community being given preference by the government," he says.
Surendra Singh, 50, enters the discussion and says development is not everything. "Safety and security of the country is most important," he says.
He says " badlao" (change) is needed in Uttar Pradesh to ensure the country is safe and secure. "Everyday we hear reports of aatankwadi (terrorists) infiltrating. The hands of the leader who works in national interest should be strengthened," he says holding up a clenched fist. "Modi is working in national interest," Surendra adds.
Many residents acknowledge that local BJP leaders and Vishwa Hindu Parishad representatives had been raising these issues much before the polls were announced. The villagers claimed that in the 2012 Assembly polls, the village had split 50:50 in favour of the Samajwadi Party and the BJP. "This time it is going to be 80:20 in favour of the BJP," said Bhaiyalal Rathore, who claims he was a "socialist" but stands disillusioned because of caste and communal politics.
The BJP is banking on the support of non-Yadav OBCs to end what they say "the 14-year exile of the BJP in the land of Rama and Krishna". Combined with the support of upper castes, the party hopes to regain power in Lucknow. The party has fielded over 100 backward class candidates.
The undercurrent of communalism, particularly among the non-Yadav backward classes, appeared to be permeating beyond Gadiya Kachpura village.
In Farrukhabad town, 40km away, J.N. Katiar, a retired state government official, insists the BJP is the best option for the state to become " uttam pradesh (best state)".
"Modiji will face re-election after two and a half years (the general election in 2019). He will come again seeking votes and so he has no option but to develop Uttar Pradesh. The SP and BSP will loot the state for three years and then do some work," he says.
But soon Katiar reveals the main reason for his preference for the BJP: " Hinduyon ki hitayshi sarkar UP ko chahiye (UP needs a government that serves the interest of the Hindus."