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February 27, 1998


Campaign Trail/Chindu Sreedharan

The gunslinger rides into town

Mr Julius has done it. Gone and lost that most important paper, that scraggly slip with his master's cellphone number on it.

"Perhaps it's in your pocket?" came a suggestion, a trifle anxiously.

Mr Julius turned towards the journo from the 'Indian Internet' (isn't that where he was from?), who was insisting he immediately phone up Aftab Ahmad Khan, Janata Dal candidate and Dirty Harry of north-west Bombay -- his lord, master and once inspector general of police, now pure politician. But alas, the paper has gone a-missing!

"No, no," Mr Julius, the all powerful secretary of the not-so-powerful Khan (not yet, anyway!), said, turning out his pockets obediently and exposing scraps, scraps and more scraps of paper, "It isn't here."

Mr Julius, it must be mentioned, is an average-built, dark, bespectacled individual, with peppery hair and a mustache struggling to find its feet but failing miserably. He has been, in his own words, 'hired one-and-a-half months ago to coordinate the campaign' and is, again, in own words, the 'only link' between the man and the campaign plans.

"Is it under the phone?"

Mr Julius lifted the phone. No paper there.

"Maybe it is in your trouser pocket?"

Mr Julius got up and turned his trouser-pockets inside out. Plenty of scraps there, but not the scrap. The reluctant hunt -- reluctant on Mr Julius's part, that is -- for the elusive chit went on: he turned, looked on his chair, under it, under the table and, finally, on the table itself. No dice.

"The paper isn't here," he announced solemnly, "It is missing!"

The journo, who had been waiting for candidate Khan to turn up for over 40 minutes, and who had been told the ex-cop was 'on his way and would be here in 10 minutes time', looked pained. His assignment, he explained again to Mr Julius, was to spend the last one hour of campaign -- that is between 1550 hours and 1650 hours -- with the valiant cop-turned-politician and record how he spend it. It was already D-hour plus a few min, but there was no sign of the candidate.

"Mr Julius," he began, "I am sure you must have the number written in a diary or somewhere."

"No," declared the secretary, "I don't have it. It's lost..." He looked as if he wanted to be dramatic and add 'for ever' to the sentence -- but the journo was fast, so fast, he didn't get the chance.

"But," he butted in, "I am sure somebody else must have it. Maybe that gentleman over there, Mr Khan's uncle?"

"No," the secretary declared, firmer than ever, "Nobody else has that number but me. All messages are passed through me. I have already told him (about you), he will be here any moment."

So the wait for the candidate re-began. In the morning, Khan, who was about to set off on a padayatra, had assured the journo of an audience during his last hour of candidature. All the said journo had to do was land up at the JD's election office and his secretary would 'make arrangements'. But that, alas, was not to be -- hadn't Mr Julius just lost his master's cellphone number irretrievably? So wait it was, for the 'hero' of the Lokhandwala shoot-out -- yes, this was the cop who, in 1991, isolated the homely locality from the rest of the world for hours and, like in movies, shot dead dreaded gangsters, finally appearing to talk to the press, bleeding, in vest and khaki trousers, with a gun in hand and another tucked into the waistband...

The journo settled down uncomfortably into one of the many white-painted wooden chairs, looking around curiously. The election office, he found, looked like an election office. There were colours, colours galore, all around, all painful to the eye, in the form of banners. There was red, there was yellow, there was violet, there was white -- and there was the chakra, the wheel, the JD symbol pasted infrequently.

And then there were the partymen. The partymen -- or rather 'partyboys' and 'partyveterans' ('the workers are all out, on the padayatra') -- were lounging around in the wooden chairs. The partyboys all looked cheery, and the veterans sleepy.

"What are Khan sahib's chances?" the journo tried to strike up a conversation with the man nearby.

"Hum log ko 100 per cent chances hai," said the worker, who identified himself as Aslam Ali, "We will get the votes of the Muslims and the dalits. And the Christians are also with us. 100 per cent chance, no less."

Oh yeah? But what about Tushar Gandhi, the Samajwadi Party candidate?

Ali was contemptuous. "Who has heard of Tushar Gandhi? He is no competition. All the secular people are with us. He might be able to pull some votes, but not enough to harm us."

Earlier, the candidate's uncle, Latif Khan, had claimed the same. Of the 1.5 million electorate spread over six assembly segments in the constituency, he said, around 450,000 were Muslims.

"He has helped people," he had said, "During the Bombay riots when he was still with the police, people were calling him in the middle of the night, and he would go out and help them. He has saved so many lives. The people remember him for that."

The journo decided to check out the gut-feeling of another man, a mobile-totting one, who, in his starched trousers and well-tucked-in shirt, looked as out of place in the election office as a grassroot politician would in a five star hotel. This was Abdul S Khan, candidate K's 'legal advisor'.

"Of course, Khan has a very good chance, a very good one," he assured the journo, "Khan is a household name, see? Not like Tushar Gandhi who is an unknown face. His only claim is that he is Mahatma Gandhi's grandson. But people know Khan will fight for justice, that he is not scared of anyone.

"The people here are mostly not JD workers, but Khan's personal fans. There is no financial motivation, but they still keep coming. That is the kind of support Khan has. I would say he has more than 65 per cent chance...

And don't go believing what you hear about the controversy that V P Singh was unhappy about the JD putting up a candidate against Tushar. "That was just a rumour. Nothing to it, absolutely."

The journo assured him he didn't believe anything of that sort and moved off.

At 1645 hours, the candidate was yet to turn up. The election office had started filling up, and the journo suddenly found himself chairless -- he had made the mistake of getting up to hear an emotional exchange between uncle Khan and a mobile-totting important-looking man.

"Who are all these people?" uncle Khan was asking Mr Important.

"Mere ko kya malum? (what do I know?)" Mr Important expressed his helplessness.

Uncle Khan didn't much care for the reply. "If they don't have any business here," he instructed a worker, irritated-like, "Bej dena bahar."

The worker went around doing his work, thanks to which the journo managed a chair for himself without trouble. He sank into it and had just about started dreaming cowboys and shootouts when in came Khan himself. He, with his wife, both dressed in creamy-white, had just got out of a creamy-white Maruti.

"Hello, hello," he said, "Sorry, got held up. We will talk as soon as I have a cup of coffee?"

The journo moved away, as the candidate and wife took over the chairs from Mr Julius and his secretary and got down to serious party business. They signed many papers, read through many slips, and, as hot coffee arrived, took up the eveningers which a caring partyman had thoughtfully provided.

"Chche! Yeh log kya bakwas likha hai! (what rot has these people written!)," Khan was utterly disgusted at what a Hindi paper had to say, "Read it!" He handed it over to wife, produced a pipe from his kurta pocket, lighted it lovingly, and commenced to smoke with great contentment. Five minutes of tobacco and caffeine soothed Khan, and he was ready for a talk.

"The padayatra took longer than planned. I had to meet some people urgently and had to leave it at Jogeshwari," he said.

Oh, the journo sympathised, it must have been pretty tiring, all that walking around from morning -- Khan actually walked to Jogeshwari?

"No, no," came the answer, "I walked in the initial stages of the padayatra... after that we had a vehicle."

The journo, unused to the ways of politics, was a bit floored by this fine art of carrying out a padayatra in a vehicle. But he didn't let that stop him.

"So how," he asked, "did you spend the last hour of campaigning?"

"You see, there was some problem. I had to meet some Muslim leaders and clear their doubts," he said, "The Samajwadi leaders had been going around spreading rumours about me... that Khan was not a Muslim, Khan kept dogs in his house, that sort of rabid thing. I had to meet these people and quell their doubts. So you can say that I spend the last hour talking to some 200 people, reassuring them. I told them the SP was behind this. I told them they had collected from the underworld and mafia more than Rs 250 million."

The journo now wanted to know what K's chances were. And, incidentally, why did he join the JD?

"I would say 60 per cent," Khan said, puffing away at his pipe, "I got a tremendous response from the public -- but unfortunately, we don't have a strong party base. But still, I think I will win.

"I joined the JD because this was the only secular party. The Samajwadi Party is a party of goondas. You know, when they found I was standing against them, gangsters used to call me up and threaten. It is only in the last five days the threats stopped; after I challenged them to come face to face up with me and see what I did to them, cop or no cop."

"Tushar Gandhi," he continued, "is not much of a challenge. He doesn't have the kind of support I have. So what if he is Mahatma Gandhi's grandson? What are the elections for, then? I am sure there are enough grandsons of great people around to fill up Parliament if it was grandsons the people wanted."

True, true, the journo agreed, but one more question: you have a very violent image, a sort of gunswinging cowboy's -- wouldn't that harm your prospects? Plus, there are all those allegations of underworld connections...

"If I had underworld connections, I would have gone and joined the SP," said Khan, "And the cowboy image is not a disadvantage but an advantage. People know I am fearless, that I will go to Parliament and speak my mind.

"The common man appreciates my image. What they want is a tough man, the man who shot those gangsters in Lokhandwala. They know he is the man who can free them from the clutches of gangsters and goondas..."

Campaign Trail

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