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Rediff.com  » News » 'Fear Has Gone From People's Minds'

'Fear Has Gone From People's Minds'

By JYOTI PUNWANI
Last updated on: June 24, 2024 12:18 IST
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'Just today a shopkeeper I went to was saying how bad business is. He must have been a BJP supporter.'
'He finally said, "It's a good thing there's an NDA government, not a BJP government, 'they' had become too big for their boots,".'

Why did Uttar Pradesh, known as a Bharatiya Janata Party fortress, defeat the BJP this time?

Three eminent citizens of the state, who have been active in public causes all their lives, tell Jyoti Punwani about the discontent that media pundits missed.

The first of a three-part series:

IMAGE: Narendra D Modi during an election roadshow in Ghaziabad. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
 

Muniza Khan, 61, lives and works in Varanasi with the Jayaprakash Narayan founded-Gandhian Institute of Studies and also with school children as part of Khoj, an educational project.

When Jyoti Punwani had spoken to her after the 2022 UP assembly results, she had sounded low and depressed. This time, however, it was a different Muniza who spoke to Rediff.com

Did you expect such a result in Uttar Pradesh?

Those of us who work on the field, knew that the BJP would lose and the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance would win. The results were as expected.

Did you expect Modi's margin to be so low?

We thought it would decrease, but not to this extent.

What were the reasons for this loss?

The biggest reason was inflation, joblessness, and the bulldozer pattern of development, where roads were being expanded by bulldozing homes.

Small businessmen were fed up of GST. They were seeing that they weren't getting any benefits, only big businessmen were prospering.

Just today a shopkeeper I went to was saying how bad business is. He must have been a BJP supporter. He started talking and finally said, "It's a good thing there's an NDA government, not a BJP government, 'they' had become too big for their boots."

This time, there was no enthusiasm among voters, Last time we heard 'Ghar ghar Modi, Har Har Modi.' This time no such slogans were raised.

IMAGE: Voters show their ink-marked fingers after casting their vote at a polling station in Amroha district, Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: Ishant/ANI Photo

But small businessmen were complaining about GST even before the 2019 elections, yet the BJP won a majority. And again in the UP assembly elections in 2022, the BJP won.

Realisation dawns slowly. When (then PM) Manmohan Singh began his privatisation programme, some of us opposed it, but people were not willing to support us. Now, people understand the damage that privatisation has caused.

This time, unlike in 2022, the Thakur lobby was with Yogi Adityanath and angry with the BJP. They were not given tickets.

There was no enthusiasm among the RSS workers too. They didn't go around canvassing for the BJP like they did earlier.

Then there was the heat. Luckily the weather was good on the day Benares went to vote.

Many people just didn't vote. They didn't see Rahul as a serious contender -- though his yatras made a big difference in the way people view him -- but they were unhappy with the BJP.

Don't forget, 8,478 voters opted for NOTA in Varanasi. That's an expression of anger against the government.

Then there were thousands of names missing from the voters' lists; members of the same family registered in different booths, who had to go hunting in the heat for their booths; discrepancy in votes polled and number of voters...

Had this been a properly conducted election, Modi's margin may have been even less.

You can gauge the anger of the voters by just two instances from Varanasi. Residents around the Assi Ghat drove out BJP MLA Saurav Shrivastav when he went to campaign for the PM. They were angry that their homes were being marked for demolition to build the proposed Jagannath corridor.

And, in the Kashi corridor (inaugurated by the PM in 2021), seen as Modi's stronghold, the PM got less votes than the Congress.

People have begun to realise the truth behind this bulldozer model of development: They get nothing but false promises; only the rich benefit.

Why did the BJP lose in Ayodhya? Because residents saw only outsiders benefiting. But you need votes from locals. This realisation dawned on people of Benares too.

The minorities were upset anyway, with the politics of hate practised by the BJP, But secular sections of society were upset too.

IMAGE: Modi with allies on the day of filing his nomination papers for the general elections in Varanasi, May 14, 2024. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

The media seems to have missed all this.

This time, people were very shrewd. They didn't say anything. They quietly voted for whoever they wanted. They knew what the media wanted to hear! Many village women told me: We told the media people what made them happy.

Muslims must be very happy. Last time, after the 2022 assembly results, you had said Varanasi's Muslims have decided to be patient and keep quiet.

Not just Muslims. We are still a society where Hindu-Muslim bonds run deep.

Just a few days back, in a big shop, I saw on the one side was Ganeshji's murti, and on the other, a framed Kalma in Arabic. I asked the Seth how come he had kept both? He said his father had established the shop, and his close friend, a Muslim, had requested him to put up the Kalma.

I asked him further that even in today's atmosphere, he continued displaying the Kalma. He replied, We are keeping up the tradition. Our family respects my father's friend, he is our elder.

Mind you, this shop isn't in a Muslim area, but in the heart of the market, considered a BJP fortress, where there are hardly any Muslim shops.

People seem to be fed up of this Hindu-Muslim politics all the time.

But yes, Muslims feel very relieved that there is a strong opposition, and it's an NDA government, not a Modi government.

IMAGE: Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav receives his winning certificate from the Kannauj Lok Sabha seat, June 5, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Will Akhilesh Yadav provide a proper opposition?

People hope he will. He should start working now -- Yogiji has already started. As it is, the SP and the Congress started work very late. If they had declared their alliance earlier, the result would have been better for them.

The SP is now the only Opposition, the BSP is finished; Mayawatiji couldn't even win a single seat. Many of her voters too voted for the Opposition because they wanted to save the Constitution.

We had visited a few Dalit villages. They told us they would vote for Behanji (Mayawati) because Modi wanted to change the Constitution and only Behanji could save it. We told them, this time, Behanji is not that strong.

Then the women started speaking. They said, everyone is voting for the Gathbandhan (SP-Congress alliance), Muslims, Yadavs, educated folks. Even we will vote for it.

As an activist, will the space for you to work increase now?

Yes, we can put forward our view more freely. But we still have a lot of work. As you can see, the bulldozer has not stopped. For the last few days, homes in Lucknow are being bulldozed to make a river front.

But the fear has gone from people's minds. We are happy even though we lost, and they are unhappy even though they won. It's a great psychological victory.

After all, the elections were fought in Modi's name; everything was 'Modi ki guarantee'. Yet, he lost in UP.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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JYOTI PUNWANI / Rediff.com