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November 23, 1998


On the trail with the PM's nephew

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A Ganesh Nadar in Gwalior

Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Anoop Mishra's wedding Lashkoi (West) constituency, Gwalior district. Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Anoop Mishra's house is crowded even though it is only 0800 hours. People are milling all over. There's no place to sit. Some people are scanning the morning Hindi newspapers. A local television reporter keeps threatening to leave. One man is on the phone, giving a running commentary about Mishra's morning routine to callers: now Mishraji is having a bath, now he is dressing, now he is having breakfast...

A painting from the Mahabharata, of Krishna enlightening Arjuna, dominates the room. Atal Bihari Vajpayee keeps a benign eye on the proceedings from his place on the wall.

Vajpayee is not adorning the wall because he is prime minister. He happens to be Anoop Mishra's uncle.

A huge tray arrives with tea. Everyone helps himself.

Finally, Mishra makes his entry, dressed in white kurta-pyjamas and a cut-coat.

A man immediately rushes up and gives him a petition, then touches his feet. Mishra glances at the paper, then passes it to his personal assistant and asks him to do the needful. Another petition. A third man comes up and they go into another room to converse privately.

After a while, Mishra returns. "Let's go," he says. But another man wants a quiet word with him. "Are we going to win the election inside this house?" Mishra grumbles. But he goes inside anyway.

On the way out, he accepts two more petitions with an automatic "I'll do it".

We pile into a Sumo while the faithful follow in a jeep. Two grim-faced security men sit with us. They do not display any arms. One glares at my bag.

We reach a police colony. Supporters mob the Sumo. Mishra is greeted with innumerable garlands. Two drummers start playing.

We go from house to house, Mishra with his hands folded. While the men come out to greet him, women stand shyly at the door. Some of the younger people touch his feet. He touches the feet of all the elderly people we meet.

An old woman garlands Mishra and showers him with rice. He touches her feet. The drummers continue boisterously. One man carries the BJP flag. A few distribute pamphlets with the party symbol. "Kamalpe button dabao (press the button near the lotus symbol)" is the exhortation. The electronic voting machine has arrived.

One fellow keeps setting off ear-splitting firecrackers. Mishra meets everyone on the ground floor. More people are gathered on the upper storeys to see the candidate. One of Mishra's men keeps track of them. Every now and then he says, "Look up," and Mishra dutifully does so, hands folded. Some ladies do namaste. Some smile. Others simply blush.

The procession moves on. At every street corner there is an argument. One supporter wants to go left, the other right. Mishra goes to every house. There are about 100 people with us now, all men or young boys. Children keep asking for caps with the BJP symbol.

When his neck grows heavy, Mishra removes the garlands and gives them to his guard who passes them to a hanger-on who dumps them on top of the Sumo from where others take them and return to greet the candidate. You have heard of the circle of life, haven't you?

Mishra hugs some people who return the compliment boisterously. Most people agree to vote for him. Few complain about their problems. They seem to understand that petitioning a candidate during an election is useless as they will be too distracted.

Two women, their faces covered with their saree pallu, listen attentively as Mishra declares, "Is baar hamaari sarkar banegi... vote mujhe do(we will form the government this time, vote for me)." Looks like he knew that the last time they had all voted Congress.

The activists keep chanting slogans. "Atthanve ke saal mein, Anoopbhaiya Bhopal mein" goes one. (In the year 1998, Mishra will go to Bhopal, the capital.) Another exhorts, "Anoopbhaiya tum raj karo, hum tumhare saath hain" -- Anoop, you must rule, we are with you. All this, of course, mixed with "BJP zindabad, Atalji zindabad, and Anoop Mishra zindabad."

One man comes running with a newspaper clipping, saying Sohel Qureshi, an ADI in Gwalior, acted as master of ceremonies at an election meeting of Bhagwan Singh Yadav, the Congress candidate. The man is exasperated, "How can a government servant take part in an election meeting?" he asks. Mishra looks suitably upset and hands the clipping to his PA. Then he goes into some more houses. In one, he sits down to chat. In others, he is offered sweets. Some people even distribute sweets to all the accompanying workers.

Mishra was an MLA from Gird in 1990. In spite of losing the 1993 election, he continued to visit his constituency regularly, according to my driver. So it is surprising that he is contesting a different seat.

Probably the powers-that-be wanted the PM's nephew to contest in an urban area. In any case, looking at the people's response, it looks like Mishra will not be affected adversely.

The Inner Circle

Assembly Election '98

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