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Lost in the Modi ‘Wave’

December 20, 2013

I had to search Google map to be sure where the non-descript village Khajuri lay in Rajatalab, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Varanasi. The ride to the venue I thought would be uneventful.  I was in for a surprise. It was like a celebration. Youngsters on bikes were riding to Rajatalab to listen to Narendra Modi.

There were others on jeeps and SUV and then there were mini buses and buses heading towards Khajuri. It was a spectacle. The buses would stop to pick up people who wanted to be a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party rally where Narendra Modi was the star speaker. The lads would stop in the middle of the road and begin slogans like ‘Har Har Modi – Ghar Ghar Modi’! (Modi in every heart, Modi in every house)! They would clap and dance and then move on.  I have never seen anything like this before. They were coming from all parts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh – from as far as Sonebhadra and adjoining places. They had coined the BJP rally as ‘Vijay Shankhnad rally’ (Bugle of Victory Rally) There were BJP flags everywhere.

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Crowd at BJP rally in Rajatalab

On reaching the venue I thought the security would be tight. The police personnel were doing their job well. I was frisked before being allowed in. I had thought it would be some college sports stadium where the rally would have been organized. To my surprise it was in the middle of nowhere. I was in a village where some fields of the farmers had been hired (I am told they were paid handsomely) and that was it. There was a stage set like a temple with a photo of Lord Shiva and barricades had been erected all around. And then there were crowds all around. People were streaming in.

Modi's helicopter landing near the venue and an excited crowd waves at him

Modi’s helicopter landing near the venue and an excited crowd waves at him

I found it impossible to get anywhere near where the chairs were and I stood around in the fields, and found it immensely soothing.  Living in a concrete jungle that is our cities, feeling the soil and the freshness of rustic air was such a respite.

And then there were more people streaming in. Some of the BJP leaders were speaking. Among them were Lalji Tandon, OmPrakash Singh, Kusum Rai, Kalyan Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and others. These were fillers to the main event that was the Modi speech. We were told that Modi’s chopper had been delayed.

The surge of the crowds was relentless. The quips from the people around me were also funny at times.  Someone remarked that even Akhilesh Yadav and his party cannot command such crowds. I guess he was right. The crowds were unmatched and everyone agreed they had never been to a rally where so many people had gathered. And this was in a non-descript village some 20km from Varanasi! The mood among the crowds was one of disenchantment from the present dispensation both at the Centre and the State.  Another thing that I noticed was that the myth that BJP is largely an upper caste party is well, just a myth.  I found more so-called ‘backward’ caste local leaders having garnered their supporters than the so-called ‘upper caste’. I also found that local leadership had responded very well to the call for a rally. They had invested in vehicles and supporters to the venue and it was rather well organized. BJP has gained roots in the hinterland of Eastern Uttar Pradesh and it showed.

The other thing that struck me was that people really want change. But not change for change sake but for the one word that everyone is looking for – development. I also realized that people in rural India are much more informed

Crowds at the back of where I was standing. Notice them perched on top of buildings

Crowds at the back of where I was standing. Notice them perched on top of buildings

and aware than we think they are. They could relate to the idea of more jobs and development.  People want leadership to perform. They have seen what Modi has done in Gujarat and they want that to be replicated in other parts of the country.

It was when the chopper started hovering that people realized that Modi had arrived. There was a surge of excitement. The BJP chief Rajnath Singh began in the local dialect and that got down well with the crowds. He promised crop insurance if BJP came to power. Rajnath Singh is a good speaker but what impressed me more was the fact that he realized that Modi was the star speaker and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate so he should keep it short. He let Modi take the stage and that was remarkable thoughtfulness.

Modi, like Obama understands the importance of touching the pulse of the people and therefore local issues and nuances find mention. Modi talked about cleaning the Ganges, the importance of developing Eastern UP or Purvanchal, as it is called so that young men don’t have to go to far off places leaving their kith and kin behind, the lack of power, the importance of developing local industries like the saree industry etc. He talked about fighting corruption which Rajnathji had also mentioned. It was a masterful

And they chanted on - 'Har-Har Modi, Ghar-Ghar Modi'!

And they chanted on – ‘Har-Har Modi, Ghar-Ghar Modi’!

performance by a consummate orator. The crowds were thrilled. It was the reaction of the crowds that astonished me most. They were as responsive to national issues, like security, as they were about the local issues. My respect for the intelligence of the common Indian grew manifold.

The Modi rally in Rajatalab was an experience. The milling crowds all around me found me at a loss as to where I was and what was going on around me. I was so far away from the dais that I could hardly see the speakers. The photos speak for themselves. The LCD screens were what we could relate to!

It was on my way back that I realized what a humungous gathering the BJP rally was. There were miles upon miles of vehicles parked bumper to bumper! How many people must have been there? Well, it could be anywhere between 500,000 to 700,000. No one really knows. It was an ordeal navigating through the traffic jam.  And then there are still some who claim there is no Modi ‘wave’. They are drawing room critics who know little of the ground reality. No wonder Congress got decimated so completely in four states.  If the present trends continue, BJP should reach very near the majority mark.

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