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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

In Bihar, it is Modi ghataao: Josh of 2019 gives way to indifference

Binod Thakur was listless and a little despondent, he had lost the electric enthusiasm for Modi from five years ago. “But don’t get me wrong,” he quickly added, “My vote is still Modiji’s, who else? Nobody else.”

Sankarshan Thakur Samastipur Published 24.05.24, 05:45 AM
Binod Thakur at his “peda” shack on the crossroads between Hajipur and Samastipur in north Bihar.

Binod Thakur at his “peda” shack on the crossroads between Hajipur and Samastipur in north Bihar. Picture by Sankarshan Thakur.

This is nothing like the 2019 election. How’s the josh? Wrong question. Where’s the josh? Shooting the wind, or probably shot by it. It’s a wind riding tortuously high centigrades, whirling this way, then that, defying a label. It is not a Narendra Modi jitaao wind; it is not a Narendra Modi hataao wind. It could be a Narendra Modi ghataao wind. Who knows? Nobody’s telling. Which is the chief reason this is nothing like the 2019 election.

I had stopped by at this crossroads between Hajipur and Samastipur five summers ago. It’s called Bhagwantpur but even locals don’t call it that; it’s simply known as Peda Chowk, after its famed pedas.

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The Modi juggernaut was rolling in high gear; it was, in fact, steamrolling, fuelled by the “ghar mein ghus ke maarenge” machismo post Balakot. There was little anyone was bothered talking about other than the ambition to boldly enthrone Modi for a second term — “a muscular leader who had just exhibited he had it in him to do whatever it takes to keep the nation secure”. The air was suffused with “Modi! Modi!!” The NDA bagged 39 of Bihar’s 40 seats.

The April 28, 2019, edition of The Telegraph spotlights Binod Thakur’s comment on Modi

The April 28, 2019, edition of The Telegraph spotlights Binod Thakur’s comment on Modi

It was in the run of such a campaign that I met Binod Thakur, owner of Bhagwantpur’s Apna Peda Bhandar. He appeared terribly excited, perhaps because Modi was scheduled to address a rally nearby, I cannot exactly recall. What did Modi mean to him, I had asked, what had he given him in the five years he had been Prime Minister? “Not much, nothing at all, in fact,” he had told me. His shack looked like it could collapse any time, he wore tattered shorts, rubber chappals that had holes in the soles, and a withered vest. And yet he was voting Modi? “Ekdum,” was his ringing response, “Namak-roti khaayenge, Modi ko jitaayenge.”

This afternoon I drove to Bhagwantpur again and found Binod Thakur at the Apna Peda Bhandar. Five years since I met him and ten since Modi became Prime Minister, Thakur and his shack were just as dishevelled as ever, perhaps a little worse for the wear. Little about him had changed, as the photograph from today would tell you.

Binod Thakur at his “peda” shack on the crossroads between Hajipur and Samastipur in north Bihar.

Binod Thakur at his “peda” shack on the crossroads between Hajipur and Samastipur in north Bihar. Picture: Sankarshan Thakur

“And so?” I put to him a little sardonically, “Did Modiji put some vegetable on your roti or is it still namak-roti?” He smiled sheepishly, embarrassed in a way that made me feel I’d been unkind. “Ab kya karen, Modiji humko mala pehna ke ghar thodehi le jaayenge, yahi hai apna ghar-sansar…. What is one to do, Modiji isn’t going to garland me and take me home, after all, this is my world.”

Binod Thakur was listless and a little despondent, he had lost the electric enthusiasm for Modi from five years ago. “But don’t get me wrong,” he quickly added, “My vote is still Modiji’s, who else? Nobody else.”

We had driven north from Patna, across the Ganga, and dipped into a slighter country road, winding through the rural flanks of Hajipur, Ujiarpur, Sarai Ranjan, slices of Vaishali and Samastipur. Some parts have voted, some are yet to. We saw neither sight nor decibel that would hint at elections.

When we stopped and asked around, it was mostly listlessness and indifference that we met. Biharis are easy to excite over politics, there’s something that doesn’t add up in their sullenness of mood. “Things have not changed, the netas have not changed, the ground and conditions have not changed, there is nothing new, and broadly nothing new is going to happen, what is there to be newly excited about?” If that tells you Bijender Kumar, retailers in the teeming Jandaha bazaar, may have voted Modi, you are probably on the mark. Only this time, the excitement over Modi has waned. “We know Modi by now, we know what he has done, what he means, what he will do, there is nothing new, neeras chunaav hai, it’s a dry election.”

Even so, will it not mean anything to outcomes that Modi seems no longer the excitement quotient in his third straight attempt at power? Will it matter to close contests that the Modi factor will not be able to tide over deficits? “Dekhiye, Bihar Modiji ko halka karega, nishchit hai, 40 mein 39 nahin hoga.”

A crisp, convinced voice; it belongs to Jitan Chaudhary, who has been listening to me renewing the conversation with Binod Thakur from a corner of the shack, “Lekin lahar nahin hai iska matlab nahin hai ki Modiji ke khilaf lahar hai.” (Bihar will make Modi lighter, this is certain, but the absence of a wave does not mean there is a wave against Modi.)

Then, like a consummate poll analyst, Chaudhary rolled out what he called “iss chunav kaa asli funda”. Given: there’s no palpable Modi wave this time. Given: the Lalu-Tejashwi camp is fighting with conviction. Given: in the absence of the overarching Modi factor, contests have come down to local issues and candidates, many of whom are up against anti-incumbency currents. Now the “funda”. The margins of victory in 2019 were very huge — Ashok Yadav of the BJP had won Madhubani by more than four lakh votes, for instance, as did Giriraj Singh in Begusarai. “Margins of victory might reduce, but this election is still easier for the BJP/NDA to win than for the Opposition, they have to reverse huge margins in many places merely to come into play.”

So which address is it — complacency or sheer predictability — that josh has gone to?

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