Poker faced always

Poker faced always

Poker faced always

In hindsight, the election has lost its carnival tag but has seemingly gained only a furtive, or at best, a business-like attention from people. Driving through big and small towns and cities of India, one had a feeling that the election drill did not carry much conviction with the voters. After all just 58.43 percent India voted.

“They just want a spectacle and a story,” is a cynical comment from a high-profile candidate and political leader about voters in India. Indian voters are ostensibly praised by political leaders but seldom genuinely empathised with. Once elections end, the politician escapes the dust and grime of kaccha-pukka roads and retreats to victory in his salubrious surroundings. Jai ho!

Holy city

I was in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to cover the first phase of polling and was staying in a hotel on the Lahura Bir Road which is a couple of kilometers away from the place where Kabir once lived, penned and sang what we now know as Kabir Vani. Almost each corner, road and street in the ancient city is laced with history. But that is a different story.

It was an interesting contest between a former professor (BJP’s MM Joshi) and a mafia-don-turned-politician (BSP’s Mokhtar Abbas Ansari), with the latter controlling most of his election campaign from inside his prison cell. He, of course, lost. 

Meanwhile, busloads of people had been ferried to the venue of Mayawati’s rally to make up the numbers. “They have been brought from outside,” came a pithy comment from someone in a cybercafé. Apart from this there was little sign of electioneering in a city —where centuries co-exist — that has seen much more than a passing election contest.

Evenings brought the pan-chewing inhabitants out in market squares and shops to discuss politics and more, but with an almost sense of bored indifference. 

Road to Azamgarh

The road to Azamgarh is a smooth one. Azamgarh, the intellectually fertile land that has  produced a number of noted writers and poets like Ayodhya Prasad ‘Hari Oudh’, Laxmi Narain Misra, Soond Faizabadi, Allama Shibli Nomani and Kaifi Azmi among others.

A number of medical doctors were campaigning for the Ulema council candidate Dr Javed Akhtar in Deoli village (in Azamgarh). They offered me cane juice to beat the oppressive heat. Time was short. A policeman was keeping watch on the candidate as news reached that the candidate of Justice Party in the adjacent Jaunpur constituency had been killed.

Time was running out and I took the road to Gorakhpur. Barring a lone jeep draped with election paraphrenalia, any sign of electioneering was almost lost in the routine road traffic. But as I entered Gorakhpur, roadside rallies become more visible with Bhojpuri songs and dance progressing through the night. Close to Gorakhpur is Chauri-Chaura -- a village where on February 4, 1922, a nationalist mob set fire to a police station killing 23 policemen, forcing Mahatma Gandhi to suspend his non-cooperation movement.

Famous Hindi writer Premchand wrote Idgah near Gorakhpur Railway station. The district is now infamous for Japanese encephalitis and gall bladder stones.

In Ayodhya, all is calm and quiet. The karyashala (workshop) where parts of the proposed temple are kept, is lying idle. Ram temple is not an election agenda in the heart of Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Times have changed. Despite occupying an important place in the political schemes of many parties, the train ‘Kaifiyat Express’ going to New Delhi stops here only for two minutes with uncertainty about the platform number. I geared up for the challenging task and managed to board it in time.

I flew to Saurashtra in Gujarat to get a feel of Modidtva brand of politics. Rajkot is a  land of goldsmiths as also a production centre of automobile parts (read Nano parts). My auto-driver, a Muslim, took me to a hotel and talked about dandho (business) and development. He was a Congress voter but was averse to criticising Modi. Just opposite my hotel on the Ashapura Road was an old school building where Mahatama Gandhi once studied.

Close to the Municipality Chowk is the historic Karanpara Chowk . BJP had organised a road show in support of their candidate Kiran Bhai Patel. “He has done well in education,” said a BJP worker, and reeled off the educational institutions owned by Patel. Rajkot is a BJP stronghold and the party was confident of a win (the BJP eventually lost).  In the evenings, Rajkot’s middle-class gathered around the Race Course Park and stadium for an evening of fun and games. Life was not interrupted by the Chutni Mahasangram (election battle), as they called it.    

The election campaign, in fact, was playing out more in people's drawing rooms on television sets with loud anchors, experts and celebrity campaigners fighting it out. But they are all on a well-deserved break. It may be a five-year break before they return to another spectacle and another story.

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