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On the Campaign Trail/A Ganesh Nadar in Bhopal

November 28, 2003

The New Dassera Ground in Bhopal buzzes with activity. Bahujan Samaj Party diva Mayawati is to address a rally here. Trucks and tractors, crammed with people, make their way to the ground. They are led by young men on motorbikes that fly the BSP's blue flag.

The BSP is the third force in Madhya Pradesh, after the BJP and the Congress. It has fielded candidates in 160 of the state's 230 constituencies.

The atmosphere at the ground, decorated with the party's flags, is festive. There are huge banners of the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and her mentor, BSP founder Kanshi Ram. Boys and young men dance at the centre of the ground to the loud beat of drums. Mayawati's rally has more people than the one addressed by Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani in Bhopal a couple of days earlier.

Two stages have been erected on the ground.

One is huge and well-decorated. It has a cloth roof that shades it from the sun, a large chair and a framed photograph of Dr B R Ambedkar. The second stage is at a lower height. Seated on it are the 18 BSP candidates contesting the election from areas nearby. This stage has no sunshade of any kind, so the nominees sit patiently in the sun.

A helicopter passes overhead. This energises the crowd who immediately begin chanting slogans and waving at the chopper.

The ground begins to reverberate with the slogan, 'Na jaathi par na pathi par, mohr lagaana haathi par (Do not distinguish between people because of caste or creed; cast your vote for the elephant).' The elephant, for those of you who came in late, is the BSP's electoral symbol.

The helicopter lands near the stage, showering the crowd with dust, gravel, dried leaves and sundry debris. The distance from the helicopter to the stage is less than 100 metres and it won't take the BSP leader more than a minute to walk to the podium.

But Mayawati, who is dressed in a cream salwar kameez with a Kashmiri shawl around her shoulders, prefers to climb into a white Ambassador with the official red light on the roof, to travel to the stage, a journey that takes a few seconds.

As she emerges from the Ambassador, people began to clap. Chants of 'Behen Kumari Mayawati ki jai' rent the air. The crowd surges forward towards the stage but are thwarted by security personnel and party workers.

Mayawati says her party is contesting the election alone because the BJP and Congress have ruined Madhya Pradesh. She explains how the BSP earned three glorious opportunities to rule Uttar Pradesh. When the BSP was in power in UP, she says she did everything for her people. She gave the Bahujan Samaj (read so-called lower castes) land, houses and jobs, something the "Manuwadi" (read so-called upper castes) parties never did. She named districts and universities after their leaders. Then she tells the crowds that, like they had done in Uttar Pradesh, they should take the master key of political power into their hands in Madhya Pradesh as well.

The main aim of all BSP supporters, she declares, should be to prevent the BJP from coming to power. After all, the BJP brought down her government in UP. She reminds them there are 70 seats in Madhya Pradesh where the BSP is not contesting the poll. She urges the people to vote for the candidate most capable of defeating the BJP in these constituencies.

Then comes the piece de resistance. "They jailed Nelson Mandela for 27 years," she thunders, "and he never gave up his ideology. They (presumably the Vajpayee government in Delhi) can send me to jail for life, but I will never desert the Bahujan Samaj!"

She gives her audience a quick lesson on how to vote on electronic voting machines. Then, pointing to the candidates sweating quietly on the smaller stage, she tells the people to vote for them and make the BSP victorious.

Her helicopter had landed at 3.30 pm. Thirty minutes later, Mayawati is done and on her way.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda. Main Image: Lynette Menezes

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