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February 11, 1998


Campaign Trail/Savera R Someshwar

The hand is the guiding force

The five-year-old, snot running down his nose, stared at the Eclair toffee in C K Jaffer Sharief's hand, then at the man himself, and finally at the 300 D dark metallic grey Mercedes.

"What is this?" This time Jaffer Sharief handed over the sweet. Still no response. Then he waved his hand. "What is this?" Enlightenment finally dawned, and the child yelled happily, "Kayee (hand)"

"That's right! And who are you going to vote for?"


"What, saar!" By now, the women had crowded the dozen-odd children who were hanging outside Jaffer Sharief's car window. "What sin have we committed?"

They, too, were duly given sweets. As we moved on, Jaffer Sharief smiled, "It is very easy and cheap for me to popularise our symbol. I just have to give a sweet -- and as it goes from one hand to another, the symbol is impressed in their mind."

Jaffer Sharief is the Congress candidate from Bangalore North, and is a strong contender for winning the seat.

At the moment, we are on a whirlwind campaign tour of Hoskote -- the predominantly rural part of this constituency. Villages pass by in a blur -- pausing only for the drums, garlands, lemons (a traditional mark of respect) and shouts of 'Jaffer Sharief ki jai.'

There are pleased looks, as saar smiles at one, shakes the hand of another and enquires after a third. And, as we whiz ahead, saar turns around and asks ex-MLC Munne Gowda (who is in charge of Hoskote), "Which village was that?"

Yet, at each place, the response is tumultuous -- forcing Sharief's security guard to jump out of the running car and make sure no one mauls his precious charge.

At Doddegopi, Sharief pauses for his first speech. And peppers to with jokes on the Janata Dal, Deve Gowda, I K Gujral and the deflation of the rupee. Also dominant are references to Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. As we move ahead, we are joined by enthusiastic Congress workers, until finally we are a careening convoy of about 10 vehicles.

Heat and dust. The phrase becomes a reality. We have finished half a dozen villages, stopped at two for speeches. Sharief is beginning to show signs of tiredness, though he claims to the contrary, "The enthusiasm of the people is like a tonic, it gives me the stamina to move on."

And he promptly forgets the name of the village just passed, the garland chucked into the boot. Only the lemon remains, adorning the dashboard of the car. At Kanoorahalli, the response is tumultuous -- with crackers and people running with the car, showering it with marigold petals. At Hindegenada, the meeting is held in the middle of the village's weekly market. The stage -- a tractor trailer to which the tractor is still attached. But the 500-strong crowd galvanises Sharief who scrambles 'on-stage' with the help of a chair.

Not everyone is happy, though, especially not the people at Ramapura, where Sharief missed a speech because he was running late. The Ramapura organisers chased Sharief to the next village. "If you don't come back, sir," they warned, "you might lose your votes." "Okay," shouts Munne Gowda. "Go vote for the BJP if that is what you want." "This is not right," said Sharief, shaking his head. "I have been working in this constituency for more than two decades. Still, come elections, I have to go around and show my face. This is not right -- this has to change."

We pause at Vailanaresapura for a speech in Hindi and a quick, late lunch. It's past 1530 hours and time to move on to the next village. Three villages later, time for another speech and another visit to the local temple. "Remember, you can only use your hand to achieve something for yourself. The flower (the BJP's lotus) will fade, the tree (the Lok Shakti's symbol) may not bear fruit. But your own hand will not let you down."

The mobile phone, which has been sounding off at regular intervals, rings again. Sharief is wanted in the city, Sonia Gandhi is supposed to arrive and it is vital that he be there to greet her. We spin towards the city, with Sharief promising his constituents that he will return.

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