Daily Archives: May 15, 2014
Campaigning in villages near Varanasi: May 2, 6 to 9
(for photos, see Facebook page of <vicharak1>.
We spent several days going door-to-door and also addressing groups of villagers in several villages in Varanasi Loksabha constituency. There were several teams covering different villages. Girishbhai Gandhi (Florida) and I were paired together and we would have a local volunteer from the area to be visited accompany us everyday. We had worked out with a car rental company so every morning a car would be available though the driver would be different. As decided from the beginning we did not solicit any funds from the party. Ours was an independent effort augmenting BJP’s campaign and was supported by our own funds.
Some of the villages that we visited were: Chakia Karadia, Munohua (Sikarganj), Sulvesa, Machhilshahr, Ayodhyapur, Loharapur, Bodalpur, Bakhariya, Kakarahiya, Korauti,, Kotawa, Sirasa, Rohaniya, Kabirpur, etc. Most places, response was very positive. I got the impression that people were so tired of misgovernance, lack of infrastructure and lack of opportunities that they wanted to give a chance to Narendra Modi whose agenda of development was music to their ears. Perhaps, first time, these folks were looking beyond caste labels. No matter which village we visited, their complaint was the same- that no elected leader came back to listen to their problems, that the village head was corrupt, that neither had they enough drinking water, nor had they water for farming, electricity was sporadic, no one cared how poor people lived, etc. We repeatedly explained to them need to unite as a community and elect better representatives. We also took notes so that we could present a brief report to Narendrabhai
In one village we came across a strong AAP supporter. This was a Kurmi Patel. Many of these Patels are supporting BJP. He had choice words for system failure and had reasons to support AAP, whom he thought had solutions to his problems. We had a lively discussion but we had to keep it to the level where he could understand what a vote to AAP would mean.
In our visit to Bakhariya, Kakarahiya, Korauti,, Kotawa, Sirasa, and Rohaniya villages, we were accompanied by two women teachers- Puja Singh and Meena Singh. They were M.A,, B.Eds and quite progressive though in their own home and village they had to be in ghunghat (veil.) We came to know more about the village life, plight of the girls, poor standard of education, etc. from them. They had voted for SP in the last election and were now ruing their decision. Now they were part of BJP’s Women’s wing.
We also had interaction with pro-BJP Muslims in the village of Kotawa. This village had seen an inter-Muslim disturbance the day before we visited it. It so happened that some Muslim office bearers of BJP from other states had come to campaign in this town. There was a deputy minister for minority affairs from Chhattisgarh, Salim Ansari. Then there was Ashfaq Patel, president of BJP Minority Cell, Nagpur. His wife, Jaitunbi Ansari is Deputy Mayor of Nagpur Municipality. While they were distributing the leaflets, they were attacked by local Muslims; reason given was that the leaflets were printed in the holy language, Urdu and when these leaflets were strewn around in the street, it was an insult to the Urdu. However, real reason was the fact that there were Muslims who were favoring BJP. Police had to intervene and next day there was a flag march to ward off any potential trouble. We met with the visiting delegation and pro-BJP supporters from the town. Fortunately, by this time a truce had been reached but media was there to interview people to provide fodder to their communal mill. It was an interesting experience to sit down with the Muslims and listen to them. It was also good to see that some educated Muslims have started to come out of the ghetto mentality.
At Kabirpur village the audience consisted of about 20 women; they were not farmers. They complained bitterly about not having water for their children. Village had only one hand pump which was installed near village head’s home. Though it was meant for use by all, village head’s family was giving hard time to the people who came to use it.
These villagers had to go a mile to a well to fetch water. These women were so agitated that there was a cacophony of voices, all of them speaking at the same time; on top of that Hindi in Varanasi area is a mix of Hindi and Bhojpuri and more so in villages, so half of what they were saying was going over our heads. We found it difficult to pacify them. One woman was asking for help with her young widowed daughter in law who seemed to be in her early twenties. I really felt depressed after this visit, which marked the end of our campaign in Varanasi.
All in all, this has been an awesome experience and I learned a lot. I had come face to face with poor and forgotten Bharat. Since Bharat consists of 70% villages, I can see that the challenges are enormous. I hope Modiji will get support form all quarters to better the lives of these people and give them hope for their future.
I must add that we had generous support from some great souls. Dr. Naresh C. Gupta, a successful businessman, whom we in VHP of America (VHPA) have known for decades through his involvement in Ekal Vidyalaya program, had taken upon himself to pay for our guesthouse stay. There were six rooms booked for an average of seven days with each one costing about Rs. 900 per day. He also invited us for dinner more than once. Dr. Bhupendra Kumar Modi, head of Modi conglomerate treated all NRis to a lavish dinner at a four star hotel. Separately, Mrs. Veena Modi invited us for a dinner at Taj hotel. We have known Modis from late 90’s when they were involved with VHPA’s Dharma Prasar Yaatra and United Nation’s Millennium Peace Summit in 2000. Mrs. Modi presented all NRIs with a box of Banaras’s famous sweets.Wherever we went, we were warmly received. Villagers always offered something to eat. They were overwhelmed that some one from as far as America had come to listen to them. In turn we felt deeply connected to them.
I hope for an improved future for these villagers, where they would have all the basic necessities of life such as roads, water, electricity, healthcare and education and enough opportunities to make a decent living. May this election be a game changer in that sense.
On the last day, we took time out to visit Kashi Vishwanath Mandir and take dip in Gangamaiya at Assi ghat. I will write about it some time in future.
We returned to Amdavad on 11th and as I wrote all these reports (now that I have easy access to the Internet and Wi Fi), I have relived the wonderful experience.
May 8, 2014 Dharana and Modiji at BJP election office in Varanasi
This was a memorable day. The day before District Magistrate (DM) had refused to give permission for Narendra Modi’s public meeting in Beniyabag, Varanasi, citing security concern (it is a different matter that two days later, same administration allowed Rahul Gandhi’s road show, though he has higher level of security!) Not one to take it lying down and known for turning every adversity in to an opportunity (starting with Maut Ka Sodagar epitaph in 2007 Gujarat election), Narendrabhai canceled all other programs (Ganga Aarati and a meet with intellectuals) except one rally in Rohaniya. This itself became a rallying point for Modi aficionados, who number in hundreds of thousands here in Varanasi. Modiji converted this into an opportunity to have an unannounced, unofficial roadshow- more about it later.
Also it was announced that Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and other leaders would sit on a Dharana in Lanka, a famous area in front of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) on 8th morning. Our team under leadership of Ramesh Shah (Houston) decided to halt campaigning and join Dharana to protest prejudiced and politically motivated decision of the EC. Our first stop was a busy road where we distributed NaMo for PM caps to people passing by. Then we proceeded to BHU campus. This is a huge campus with a big public hospital. Pandit Madanmohan Malaviyaji’s statue graces the gates of the campus. We reached there just before 10:00 AM. BJP leaders were expected at 11:00. There was a big crowd chanting slogans against the election commission and the DM. Trucks with satellite dishes were parked on both sides of the road. All major channels- Aaj Tak, India Times, NDTV, ETV, TV9, etc. were present as were a number of smaller and local channels. Umpteen reporters holding microphone in had with cameraman in tow were working the crowd to get sound bytes. Burkha Dutt, Rahul Kanwal and Anurag Kashyap were moving around. I saw and heard Anurag Kashyap spewing his anti-BJP, anti-Modi venom as his cameraman was recording him. He looked like an angry, frustrated man. A vein on his neck was literally throbbing and I though the guy was going to have a coronary. I had vicarious pleasure knowing that these scoundrels’ days were numbered now. Within an hour crowd was of unmanageable proportion. Police had not stopped or diverted traffic because Dharana is a public right and does not require police permission. Since no permission is sought, there is no legal need to stop the traffic. Hapless people on two wheelers and in cars were struggling to pass through human sea. Air was charged with Modi, Modi chants. Some local leaders were already sitting in the middle of the road for Dharana. Heat was so intense that it felt someone had put hot wires around our bodies. We were constantly downing cold water bottles but that gave only temporary respite. W waited till 12:30 Pm but Jaitleyji and company had not arrived yet. We decided that we were better off going to BJP election office and help with office work there. This we spent two and a half hour in the frenzied environment.
We had come to know that Modiji was going to come to the election office to do Ganga Pujan straight from his meeting at Rohaniya. I went to a cybercafé to get some work done as there was no Internet/Wi-Fi at the guesthouse where we had stayed (across from BJP election office in Rathyatra in Sigra area.) When I reached the BJP office gates at 5:30 PM, it was a virtual fortress, surrounded by CRP, RAF, police, etc. No one without an approved pass was allowed inside. They had issued passes to local workers, which was quite understandable. Inside also there were people in the compound who were not allowed to go inside the building. There were people in the building on upper floors who were not allowed to come down. Our friend, Ramesh Shah, who was helping with the office work was inside but rest of us were outside. I attempted to reason with the senior volunteer outside and after some persuasion, he allowed me to go inside the compound making it clear that I would not be able to go further, which was OK by me. With me was Meena Shah, a volunteer from Houston and Dr. Anjila Gupta, a professor from Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi who had taken one month off to work on campaign in Varanasi. All three of us joined 60 or so people in the large compound. It was a hot day and all we had was water at normal temperature. We kept standing, sometimes finding a stoop to sit on. Modiji was expected around 6:00 PM. But wait was without an end. I did feel drawn out because morning Dharana and now standing on feet in the depressing heat had taken its toll but there was no question of backing out now. There were people in balconies of the building. The office is on the ground floor and this brand new building has 10 floors. We saw Laxmikant Bajpayee, president of BJP-UP, sitting outside. We also saw former CM, Kalyan Singh’s son and many other dignitaries. Modiji had arrived in Lanka (BHU) from Rohaniya by helicopter and from there he was coming in an SUV. He couldn’t stand in the vehicle as it would be against election law (that would be considered an official road show and would need permission, so he was greeting people on the side of the roads with folded hands. Crowd was so intense on his route that it took him five hours to cover a distant of 4 KM (2.5 miles)! Finally his car entered the gates at 9:30 PM. I had waited exactly four hours to have a glimpse of him.
As soon as he alighted from the flower bedecked SUV, security threw a cordon around him yet the crowed jostled to be near him. People almost broke the cordon and Modiji had hard time to walk barely 50 steps to heavily guarded front doors. I snapped some photos with iPad but it was impossible to get a clear shot. All you could hear was Modi, Modi, Modi and nothing else. He was hardly inside for 10 minutes where he performed Puja of Gangaji water that was specially brought there; Pandit Chhannuram, who had accompanied when he filed his nomination officiated for the Puja. Anjilabahen asked me if she could get one of the flower “malas” from Modiji’s vehicle. I was not too sure but asked one of the commandos. He OK’ed it so I picked up one mala from the bonnet of SUV and gave it to Anjinibahen, keeping one flower for myself. Such is the craze and Bhakti for Modiji, cutting against all barriers of age, position, social status, etc.
Very soon Modiji came out; this time the security was better prepared and whisked him into his car and sped off in no time. Within moments it was all over.
Modiji turned the rejection by the DM into an opportunity to attract more people than what a public meeting would have achieved. No wonder, all dirty tricks of Congress have failed.
This was an exciting, thrilling and exhausting day for all of us.
May 6- Modiji’s rally in Gaurigunj- a memorable experience
As modiji’s rally was scheduled for May 6 in Amethi area, we decided to attend it rather than go campaigning as most villagers would be flocking to the rally. Time for rally was set for 3:00 PM and we knew that it would be past 4:00 PM before Modiji arrived.
We left from Kalyan Pur at 10:30 via Amethi as we had to buy train tickets for return to Varanasi. After the near death experience of driving long distances on the highways and byways of Varanasi to Amethi, we refused to go back by car and opted for the train instead. It was going to be a middle of the night train and reservation was not guaranteed. We bought the tickets any way for 3 AC train with our names on the waiting list. Traffic management in Amethi is very poor and no one follows any rule of the road so there were unnecessary and irritating long delays everywhere. There were virtual gridlocks in front of the cops, who stood by disinterested. Perhaps, they had imbibed attributes of a ‘sthitaprajna’ a bit too much!
Any way, finally we were on our way to Gaurigunj, which was about 10 miles northwest of Amethi. It took us 45 minutes because of bad roads. Our driver was expert at maneuvering landmines like potholes but that also meant that very often he came face to face, in a head-on like situation with the oncoming traffic. We saw scores of people walking to the venue, rickshaws, trucks and buses festooned with NaMo insignia; it was a festive atmosphere. We reached the venue at 1:45 PM, a good 75 minutes before the start time but there were already thousands of people. We were able to find seats on the side of the stage, in unreserved area in the 11th row from where one could clearly see the speaker as well as the giant screen. This was after standing for almost an hour.
Gajendrasingh Solanki, a well-known poet and an office-bearer of cultural wing of BJP was emceeing the event. He regaled the audience with his witty, full of barbs poetry castigating Congress. There were several speakers, mostly local and state level leaders, those who were past their prime in the political arena as well the new aspirants. Some were very good, others looked like a deer caught in the headlight of a car. In any case people were not paying attention; they were looking at a TV camera mounted on a crane and also at scores of reporters from every TV channel. Some were scanning the sky to see if they would be the first to spot Narendrabhai’s helicopter.
People kept pouring in. It was a God sent gift for hawkers and vendors. Heat was intense, around 110 degrees F. Water pouches, cool cucumber (literarily), sugarcane juice, fruits, soft drinks, snacks, were being hawked at inflated price and people were snapping them up like hot cake. Suddenly tons of youth invaded our area. Slowly they pushed their way to the front, dethroned those sitting in first row of chairs and started flinging chairs in the air to make room for them to stand. It was chaos for a while. Surprising there were no injuries but some chairs were broken. Some of these guys stood up on the chair, completely blocking view all those who were sitting. No amount of request or reasoning would work with them; they were simply there to have “darshan” of their God, NaMo. By the time Smruti Iraniji arrived at 4:00 PM, crowd had swelled to over 100,000. We had been sitting/standing in the scorching sun now for more than two hours. It was announced from the stage that there was 18-mile backup of traffic and vehicles were struggling to reach the rally. As the time drew closer for Modiji’s arrival, a slow hum that grew into a roar started from the audience. There were incessant chants of Modi, Modi and its variations. People would look up the sky, someone would mention that he had seen the helicopter and the crowd would be on its feet and in frenzy. One would think that Bhagwan Ramachandra himself was arriving in Pushpak viman! Ultimately just around 4:45 PM, a dot appeared in the sky, grew within moments to a full fledged helicopter, was almost in front of us, turned and landed just behind the stage. As Modiji came up on the stage, it was as if all hell broke loose; there was near pandemonium everywhere and for a while it looked like people would be crushed in the stampede. Eventually repeated request from the stage to maintain calm and dignity and security force’s quick action restored some semblance of order.
Smrutiji spoke first. She is a formidable orator and spoke well outlining her vision for Amethi. We could not see her as there were all these unruly youth standing on the chairs. She spoke for 20 minutes or so. By now crowd was estimated at 150,000. When Modiji rose to speak there was deafening slogan shouting. No one, including us could remain silent, such was the overpowering emotion. Modiji started off gently and as the time passed, he stepped up his attack on the misdeeds of the Gandhi family. He is so good at weaving his thoughts together that one would not know when he switches gears or subject. By now those rabble-rousers were gone. I surmised that they had no interest in Modiji’s speech (and probably his vision); they wanted to see him live from the close quarters, had their wish fulfilled and had left. So we were able to take their place, not standing on the chair but standing almost near the first row and could see Modiji clearly. Modiji heaped praises on Smrutiji. He tore into Priyanka Gandhi’s snide remark “Who is she (Smrutiji)?” He said, “I will tell you Priyankaji, who she is. She is my younger sister. I had given her the most underdeveloped district in Gujarat to work on and she has done such a wonderful job that I have sent her to Amethi so that people of Amethi can have development that your brother has neglected all these years.” He was so profuse in the praise of Smrutiji that she was seen crying and wiping tears. By now, Modiji had the crowd literarily eating out of his hands. He talked about all round development of Amethi that he has in mind; he talked about the woes of the farmers. It was clear that he knew all the local issues. As his speech neared the end, he talked about “politics of anger”, a phrase hurled at him by Rahul. He asked the audience I have a locked box (Hindi word: Pitera, Gujarati- Patara), should I open it for you? He asked this more than once and crowed roared in approval. Then he set out to list politics of anger starting with Rajeev Gandhi and ending with Rahul Gandhi. (1) Rajeev Gandhi who held just a party position got angry and had insulted publically the then C. M. of Andhra Pradesh who had come to receive him at the airport, driving him to tears. (2) Sonia Gandhi had elected president of Congress, Sitaram Kesari, a man in his eighties, who belonged to backward caste physically lifted from his office and then dumped out in the street so she could occupy Congress President’s chair. (3) When P. V. Nursing Rao, former Congress Prime Minister of Bharat died, Sonia Gandhi did not give permission to keep his body at the Congress office for people to pay homage (because after Lal Bahadur Shashtri, he was the first non-Nehru-Gandhi Congress PM) and she did not allow to have him cremated where all former PMs were, so that no memorial of him could be built later. (4) Rahul Gandhi, who talks about politics of anger, publically tore apart an ordinance passed by his own party’s government and insulted the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who was traveling abroad.
With this stinging chrgesheet, he ended his address. It is to Narendra Modi’s credit that he has exposed the so-called Gandhi family ( we all know how Khan became Gandhi for political convenience and hoodwinking the nation) like no one else has, and he has taken the fight to their home ground.
We returned exhausted by the heat but exhilarated by the experience. Our excitement had not ended yet. That night we were waiting for the train to Varanasi at Amethi railway station. We were sitting next to a young man. As I started talking, I found out that the guy was a Youth Congress worker from Balia. He told me that he was in Amethi for two weeks to do survey for Rahul Gandhi. When I asked him about what he found, he bitterly said that people were asking questions about lack of basic amenities for which he and others had no answer. He said that the survey was an exercise in futility. He was a graduate without job. He surprised me when he said that his name was the electoral roll at two places, in Balia and in Bihar, across the boarder and that he intended to vote for BJP. He said only Modi could change the situation. Such was the Modi wave!
Last installment of our excitement was the train journey. The train arrived at 1:00 AM, half an hour late. We did not know where the 3AC coaches would come on the platform; we saw them but since the train stopped hardly for two minutes, we had to get into a non-ac compartment and stand in the vestibule. It was stuffy and hot. Someone told us that the train would stop for five minutes at Pratapgadh station (about half an hour away) where we could change to 3AC coach. As soon as train stopped at Pratapgadh, we got down with our luggage and literarily ran to find 3AC coaches. There were many but we did not see the train conductor who could verify if we had moved from the waiting list to confirmed reservation. So again, as the train started, we entered nearest 3AC compartment. We sat in the walkway/aisle on our bags and kept dozing off. Of course, we had to get up a number of times when passengers had to pass by to got to the bathroom. No one came to check our tickets and we were glad when the train arrived at Varanasi at 5:30 AM. We were on the road for campaigning by 9:00 AM but that is the story for another day.
May 3,4, 5 in Amethi
We embarked on the journey to Amethi with excitement. One, we were going to the battleground Royale, where a dynast was being challenged as was never done before and other, we were going to witness development of a constituency, supposedly nurtured by Rahul Gandhi.
Amethi lies 120 miles from Varanasi and part of the travel is by national expressway. It still took us more than five hours. Expressway was nowhere near what we are used to in Gujarat and secondary roads were horrendous to say the least. Traffic indiscipline was so terrible that more than once I thought we were going to die in a head-on collision.
We were put up with a fairly rich, landlord (Zamindar) type of a joint family of four brothers. House had 22 rooms. They owned about 65 acres farmland and had also other business interests. They were a pro-Congress people but now leaning towards Modiji. We had lively firsthand education about how Rajiv Gandhi built roads and other facilities and nurtured the constituency and how the village was indebted to him. But then in last 20 years, no development or maintenance had occurred. All this learning was under open skies sitting in a large verandah at late night. Sleeping on coats out in the open and waking up to the sweet sounds of dozens of peacocks was a beautiful experience. Our hosts were gracious and exhibited warmth that is still found in villages.
Next day we had a marathon day. We were on the road from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM with a break of about one hour. We were accompanied and guided by Sri Manish Manjul of Samarth Foundation, New Delhi. Besides, one of the host brothers was with us all the time. We visited Amethi and villages of Ayodhya Pur, Bariya Pur, Bhadaw, Dasai Pur, Durga Pur, Kalyan Pur, Karmai Pur, Kenaura, Lahua, Lambhua, Machwah, Madhur Pur, Ramgunj, Saranwa, Sambhovan, and Teraayen. I noticed a few things. (1) Lack of infrastructure. Roads were almost non-existent. Without exaggeration I can say that in Amethi constituency, there are potholes and craters connected by strips of pavements and this pass off as roads. (2) Limited and undependable supply of electricity. One may get up to 12 hours of electricity and that too not on a fixed schedule (3) Terrible shortage of water and poor quality of drinking water (4) Poverty of villagers (5) A sense of resignation and desperation
At village after village whether we met with groups of people or individuals, they had a litany of woes and we were listening to them helplessly. At one group meeting they brought drinking water in a glass to show us. It looked more like crushed brick mixed in water. Repeatedly the villagers and semi-urban people, educated as well as uneducated told us that no one cared for them. There was a yearning for a change and hope that “ Modi” will change their lot. We met followers of Congress and SAPA, who said that they would vote for Modi because he would bring development. Expectations from Modiji are so high that it scares me to think of the disappointment of these people when they would realize that changes wouldn’t come that fast and that many of the problems are linked to the non-performing local and State governments and not the central Government.
Despite all the unrest, my sense was that Rahul would sail through, albeit with a reduced margin. The Bharatiya mindset of groveling at the feet of a dynasty is so deeply etched in the psyche of the people that it is no use blaming only the rulers; people are equally responsible for their own plight. Education of the people and all-round development of impoverished areas by a BJP government is the only answer to end the hold of the dynasty, the Thakurs, the landlord and political mafia. Fortunately, all children go to school (education is a big business everywhere in Bharat) and Ekal Vidyalaya has good penetration in these villages, so hopefully thing would change for better.
An interesting thing I noticed was the custom that wherever one went, before the customary offer of a glass of water, the host will offer something to eat. It may be as simple as a piece of jaggery (deliciously sweet, since this is made in the farm from sugarcane without any additives or refinement), a biscuit or a cracker or sweets and snacks. Initially, I had refused the offer but once I came to know of the custom, I never said no. We drank all kind of waters at every place we went over these 10 days and we had no problem whatsoever; I attribute it to God’s grace. I was surprised that we were in one piece after the grueling journey on unending potholes for miles and miles but there was a sense of satisfaction that we were doing our bit for our beloved matrubhumi.