Hundred per cent electricity vs 'Hitler'

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Mehsana
  • Published 4.11.07
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Mehsana, Nov. 4: Keshubhai Patel sits at the BJP office in this north Gujarat town, listing the chief minister’s “achievements”.

Not to be confused with Narendra Modi’s arch-rival, this Keshubhai is the BJP’s district chief at Mehsana, 70km from Ahmedabad.

“Hundred per cent rural electrification with 24x7 power supply, running water, school freeships for one girl in every BPL family…” he begins counting.

Then there’s drip irrigation modelled after Israel’s, a Rs 1-lakh life insurance with the premium paid by the government. And, crucially for the cash-savvy Gujarati, a fixed deposit of Rs 1,000 for BPL girls that matures after 21 years.

Keshubhai’s account of a near-idyllic rural Gujarat was interrupted by a worker who uttered the word “Hitler”.

The district chief started, looked fidgety and, on his own, offered an explanation for his worker’s “indiscretion”.

“History is replete with examples of leaders wanting to force their way on everybody because they were super-dynamic and impatient for change. Hitler, Sikander (Alexander), Indira Gandhi and Madhavsinh Solanki (a former Gujarat chief minister)…. Sadly, they flopped. In politics, a bit of the chalta hai (casual) attitude works well.”

Was Keshubai alluding to Modi? His answer was indirect: “When workers don’t feel they are part and parcel of their government, they will not work that enthusiastically. Many of us spent our own money and time building the BJP in Gujarat. Our workers’ message to the leaders is: ‘don’t repeat this mistake of ignoring us if we are voted in again’.”

With a little over a month left for the polls, Modi has rediscovered the karyakartas (workers) before their restiveness turned into rebellion and has been interacting with them.

The image Modi has built for himself over the years went down well with Gujarat’s established and upwardly mobile classes but not necessarily the party workers.

When the chief minister declared he had watched over the state treasury like a “chowkidar” and not allowed one greedy paw to dip into it, the message delighted his fans but dismayed his workers.

“Corruption at the lower levels has almost ended. That’s why more and more political workers have started doing part-time business; they work for the party only when called upon,” said Kheda BJP chief Kalpesh Shah, who has a trading agency.

Yet, at a time many of Modi’s MLAs and ministers are unpopular and risk defeat, a rich farmer from Dashela village in Gandhinagar suggested the chief minister was safe. “Eighty per cent of the BJP voters today relate to Modi and not the party,” Binoobhai Valjibhai Chowdhury said.

This is exactly what Modi’s cheerleaders, too, claim: the man and the myths around him may help the BJP beat anti-incumbency and other hurdles. “He has the courage to fight anyone who stands in his way,” said Paruben Jaykrishna, president of the Gujarat chamber of commerce and industry.