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 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.
June 6, 2011:
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad, says an ancient proverb. This is what comes to mind in the context of the Government’s unprovoked resort to Operation No-Holds-Barred in the early hours of June 5 against Baba Ramdev and his followers at the Ramlila maidan.
While creating an impression of responding to the call of the Baba against corruption and black money, the Government had already drawn up a full-fledged Orbat for neutralising the Baba. For the meticulous planning, stealthy preparations and thorough-going execution, even the colonial, Imperial British can learn a lesson or two from Independent, democratic India’s present-day powers-that-be.
Coming to think of it, there are many uncanny similarities between the crushing of the Quit Corruption movement by the Manmohan Singh Government and two other defining moments of modern Indian history: The Quit India movement of 1942 and the infamous Internal Emergency of 1975.
The Quit India gathering at Bombay on the fateful night of August 9 was also peaceful. Mahatma Gandhi had, no doubt, called upon the British to Quit India, warning them of a ‘mass struggle on non violent lines on the widest possible scale’. But, at the same time, he had expressed his intention to first meet the Viceroy to explore a decent way out of the impasse.
As in the case of the Quit Corruption movement of Baba Ramdev, well past midnight a huge contingent of Imperial police force swooped on the Congress leaders and dragged them post-haste to railway trains standing at the ready on the platform and spirited them away to unknown destinations. One white Inspector of Police had the barbarity to bodily pull and shake the 73-year old Gandhiji so as to wake him up, and directed the blinding blaze of a five-cell torch on his face from close quarters.
The Internal Emergency too was similarly sprung on an unsuspecting Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Kripalini and other noble heroes who fought the British, putting up with unbearable privations, suffering and sacrifice.
A thousand leaders — outstanding patriots all who had served the country with distinction for far longer periods than Indira Gandhi — were ruthlessly rounded up well past midnight and lodged in jails at places far away from their home States, keeping their kith and kin in the dark about their fate. Even after the names of their prisons were made public, their close relations were made to undergo the mental, physical and financial torture of having to travel long distances at heavy expense to unfamiliar places if they wanted to exercise their right of meeting the detenus at prescribed intervals.
Thus, in all the three revolting cases, the fact that saintly figures (Gandhiji, Jayaprakash Narayan and Baba Ramdev) were leading the movements was of no consequence to the cruel rulers.
In all the three cases, the common ruse employed was to strike well past midnight so that the media did not get wind of the loathsome repression, and the rulers had a respite from public outrage for at least 30 hours.
In all the three cases, the rulers tried to stamp out movements demanding purity in public life and protesting peacefully against monstrous evils (slavery, authoritarian suppression of civil rights, and corruption-cum-black money) which were making a farce of the Constitution and democratic institutions.
In all the three cases, the rulers justified their indefensible excesses by resorting to calumny and vilifications against those speaking for the people.
In the case of Quit India, the British painted it as a ‘deliberate fifth columnist conspiracy’, for strengthening the Axis powers; in the case of Quit Murdering Democracy, Jayaprakash Narain was almost physically eliminated; and a sustained character-assassination of the Baba followed his launch of the Quit Corruption campaign.
What an atrocious irony that those fighting corruption are sought to be traduced and evicted from their legitimate spaces, whereas those who should have been stripped of all their unmerited positions and ill-gotten possessions and thrown into prison for good are indulging in loot and plunder with impunity, right under the noses of the UPA Government!