YEH HAI INDIA
PIC OF THE DAY
Gift your parents good health
"Ek roti, ek dhoti," she screams into the microphone and the crowd roars in approval. A child-like giggle follows next, making the eager and jostling crowd laugh uproariously.
Within a minute, it is business once again as Banarsi Kinnar goes about the task of demolishing her political opponents.
No quarter is given and none asked for, as Kinnar, who is contesting from the Chirai village constituency, launches broadside after broadside at the "impotence" of the present-day politicians.
Nothing new in the political bazaar of Uttar Pradesh, except that Kinnar is a hijra (eunuch) whose constant refrain of political "impotence" rings a bell of truth for the assembled people.
A novice in the big bad world of political, her lack of oratory skills is evident as she starts by calling her political opponent Virender Singh, former transport minister in the Rajnath Singh government and Loktantrik Congress Party candidate, a ghoos khor (corrupt person).
Egged on by the crowd, Kinnar dubs him a "fake hijra" and urges the crowd to vote for the "real hijra" by pressing the button with the symbol of four bangles (the election symbol) on the Electronic Voting Machines.
Kinnar and her troupe have hit upon an ingenious way of reaching out to the people with a song and dance routine that is heavily borrowed from the nautanki style of singing.
One of the songs in Bhojpuri goes, "Ae bhaiya, ae chacha, is chunav ma tohar pyar se chuddiyam pe button dabawan (O, brothers! Please press the button with the symbol of bangles)."
The troupe also sneaks in a bit of mythology, saying that Lord Krishna had said that in the age of Kaliyug, when all men (politicians) fail, it would be the
raj (rule) of the hijras.
Before going to another venue, Kinnar also reminds the audience that she will personally come and dance in each house.
"After all, I will (as an MLA) come and dance in your house, whereas others don't even bother to put a foot (here)," she says.
While men attend Kinnar's meetings just to see a eunuch give speeches, the woman, however, go for the bangles that Kinnar unfailingly distributes. It is a virtual stampede among the women to pick out the most dazzling and colourful bangles, as Kinnar strikes a benevolent pose
Suraj Singh, a 23-year-old trader in Shivpur bazaar of Chirai village constituency says, "We will vote for her as she is a hijra. Being a hijra, she doesn't have a husband/wife, sons or daughters. It is only those with families who become corrupt. If you don't have a family, then who will you become corrupt for?"
Nodding his approval, Ashok Kumar Tripathi, a self-professed Bharatiya Janata Party supporter "ever since I learnt how to tie the langot", says the people are increasingly getting disillusioned with "regular" politicians.
"They ask for votes, and when we give them they forget all about us," he says, adding that Shabnam Mausi (another eunuch elected as a corporator from Gorakhpur) is doing "excellent work".
But when Kinnar comes home after a hectic day of campaigning, the scene is drastically different. When rediff.com tries to speak to her, a person who constantly lurks in the background in all her meetings, takes over.
He flashes a laminated 'official' document in Hindi and introduces himself as Rakesh Srivastava, her election agent.
He claims that he is a lawyer committed to weeding out criminals from politics, digging out a book of court rulings that say that he has filed a petition against the notorious Raja Bhaiya.
And before you can say Banarsi Kinnar, he has launched a tirade on how "certain people" have tried to bump him off.
He says that he is financing Banarsi Kinnar's campaign, and that it is his way of protesting the failures of the political system.
After a while, when I sneak in a question about what she thinks of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kinnar appears completely stumped.
After seconds of silence, Srivastava leans forwards and mumbles, quite audibly, that Vajpayee is the prime minister and the journalist wants to know what you think of him.
"Vajpayee is from our community," Kinnar says with a sheepish grin on her face. When I prod her further, Kinnar looks at Srivastava, who nods his head. She says, "Because he is also unmarried", generating guffaws all around.
Kinnar says if elected she will develop roads, schools and a good sewerage system in her constituency and make sure that the poor people have the money to marry off their daughters.
When I ask her how she plans to do all this, she again looks at her election agent, who mumbles "vidhayak kshetra vikas kosh (legislator's development fund)" and "75 lakhs (Rs7.5 million".
Kinnar dutifully repeats the line and adds: "Usme se banayenge (we will carry out development from that money)."
When I say that the election agent, who is answering all the questions, will not be there in the assembly, an embarrassed Kinnar smiles while a harried Srivastava says, "Arrey ma ke peth se he koi saab kuch seekh ke nahin aata (no one learns it in the womb)."
When I bid goodbye to Kinnar and her troupe after close to six hours of watching their every move, I have a hollow feeling inside my tummy.
All the celebration that the media and desktop academics indulge in the revolt of the civil society against the institutional systems of governance and the empowerment of the marginalised sections may after all be just a mirage, with the brokers of power finding a new face for their wheeling and dealing.