Of course, there’s a Narendra Modi wave, says the enthusiastic young man from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing, in Mohanlalganj near Lucknow. Abhishek Tiwary makes an expansive gesture, encompassing all of India’s largest state, as if to say, grandly, that Modi is everywhere.
Of course, there’s a Modi wave, says the RSS man whose the big landlord in Rae Bareli market. Perhaps even in Rae Bareli.
Of course, there’s a Modi wave, says Surendra Maitani, head of the Kanpur BJP. True, he does mention it as a bit of an afterthought, after saying the party’s well-prepared campaign is what will make the difference.
He says the BJP has registered 63,000 new voters for Murli Manohar Joshi, who has been given a month to unseat a three-term MP. But the time and personality doesn’t matter, Maitaini insists.
Because of Modi. One of the other functionaries mentions the big rally they held for Modi last year. In the assembly room, pride of place is given to a wooden throne in a giant glass case: the sign on top says the chair was sat in once by Modi. If nothing else, there’s definitely a Modi wave in the BJP office.
Yes, perhaps there’s a Modi wave, say two small businessmen in Etawah, 150 km from Kanpur – except not around there, of course. The two of them – named Yadav and Gupta – had said they had heard there was a wave, but it might be in the cities.
Sure, there might be a Modi wave, say the shopkeepers in Kanpur – but perhaps in Lucknow? Even in the BJP office, once the wave is out of the way, the discussion turns quickly to how Kanpur’s largest ethnic bloc, Muslims, will vote.
Unlike in Shriprakash Jaiswal’s previous victories, the Bahujan Samaj Party has put up a Muslim candidate. And, the Aam Aadmi Party has picked up a local eye surgeon named Mehmood Rahmani.
In his office, in the tube-lit, freshly whitewashed basement of his house, there are more people than there were in the BJP’s office, all with the determined expressions that is the real badge of membership in the AAP. Rahmani, a balding, plump, energetic man, who like all AAP candidates is at his most enthusiastic when talking about his own accomplishments as a professional – “I have conducted 300,000 free cataract surgeries, I am a member of six international organisations” – makes no secret of the point at which he decided the country needed his service: when he visited Gujarat after the 2002 riots.
He says he met Modi then, and asked him, “Whatever happened, happened. But how will you ensure the security of minorities now?”
A few minutes away, in Naveen Market, Mohammed Akram from Azamgarh has similar concerns. As he expertly mixes rice puffs, cornflakes, mustard oil and spices, he says he goes back home only to bring in harvests and to vote.
This year, the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav is due to contest from Azamgarh, moving out of his comfort zone in central UP to the east. Akram snorts, and insists he has no wish to vote for either Yadav or “his contractor”, meaning the SP’s Azam Khan.
He pauses. “But what to do? This time, we’re being forced into it.” In the shops behind him, the division is stark. Those shopkeepers with Muslim names — unlike Hindu shopkeepers, their shops are devoid of any religious markers, even a poster of Mecca — insist that while they aren’t satisfied with Jaiswal, “this time, there’s no option”.
The BJP isn’t seeking these votes but is hoping they won’t go all to Jaiswal, either. That hope might not materialise everywhere. And, the BJP’s workers and loyal voters, whether in the offices or elsewhere, complain more or less noisily about the choice of candidates – Joshi is far from popular.
As the fifth list of BJP candidates was read out on TV from Delhi, the leaders of the Kanpur BJP muttered under their breath: “Hariom? He’ll lose. Shyama Charan? He’ll lose, too.” (Hariom Pandey is Ambedkar Nagar; Shyama Charan Gupt from Allahabad).
Abhishek Tiwary, the enthusiastic ABVP member, rolled his eyes when talking about the BJP candidates, especially Jagdambika Pal, the sitting MP from Domariyaganj, who got a ticket within hours of joining the BJP. Local party cells, the workers say, have been preparing for difficult candidates for a while, going around telling people that it shouldn’t matter.
Clearly, the Delhi BJP has been banking on a Modi wave to lift all boats. But a wave isn’t exactly visible anywhere, except the BJP office.
And, one other place — a place which should deeply trouble the other parties, especially the Congress. On the border of Unnao and Rae Bareli districts — both held by the Congress, the latter by Sonia Gandhi herself — stands the Pandit Madan Gopal College of Arts, Science and College.
Exams have just ended; young people are loafing about. Here, there’s a Modi wave — unambiguous, undeniable, unmistakable. It’s difficult to find any student, even those from Rae Bareli, willing to admit they support anyone else.
True, some say it’s unlikely the BJP will take even one of the constituencies, although the Congress lost every Assembly segment in Rae Bareli in 2012; but their own support for Modi and the BJP is unequivocal.
They’re almost all upper-caste Thakurs and Brahmins, natural BJP voters, and many smile sheepishly when I ask them if they’re registered to vote. But the fervent unanimity tells its own story. They don’t really care who the candidate is; as far as they’re concerned, Sonia Gandhi is up against Modi in Rae Bareli as well. And, among Rae Bareli’s young people, at least, there’s a Modi wave.