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Does Yogi want Ravi Kishan elected from Gorakhpur?

May 12, 2019 10:51 IST

The UP CM didn't deign to attend the actor's nomination.
Aditi Phadnis reports from Gorakhpur.

Ravi Kishan

IMAGE: Ravi Kishan, actor and the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat, right, with Ajay Singh Bisht, currently the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and the MP for Gorakhpur from 1998 to 2017.

Walking into the campaign headquarters of Ram Bhuyal Nishad, the Samajwadi Party candidate for the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat, at 7 am is slightly unsettling. The venue is someone's vacant home. The air is thick with the smell of stale sweat. Scores of men can be seen rushing in and out of toilets in various stages of undress. There are no women.

The Nishad (boatmen) community is nearly 300,000-strong in Gorakhpur. "Their job? They fish by day and drink by night," says an upper caste Bharatiya Janata Party leader, guffawing.

The Nishads consider themselves scheduled caste, though they are counted as other backward class, which puts them in the same category as the Yadavs. Socially they are far lower on the caste ladder than the Yadavs.

In the room, there is no difference of opinion on one issue: 'The biggest struggle for the Nishad community is the right to '<samman' (self-respect)," says Ram Bhuyal. A crowd of burly men standing around shout in agreement.

 

Ram Bhuyal, called 'mantriji' by dint of the fact that he was made minister for fisheries in the Mayawati government when she was the chief minister, has been in both the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party. He knows the structure as well as the working of the two groups intimately.

He is keen to talk, but his workers say it is time to go. As he strides out of the room, he flags political issues: The new All India Institute of Medical Sciences is nothing more than a useless pile of bricks (not quite true, as the OPD is already functional) and in any case it is there only because of the grace of Akhilesh Yadav, the SP president and former chief minister who sanctioned land for it. He is bundled into a waiting vehicle by a crowd of fierce-looking men and driven off to a meeting.

By contrast, Ravi Kishan, Bhojpuri and Hindi film actor, strolls in wafting a cloud of some exotic after-shave. His campaign office is in the basement of an upscale mall and is decked up like a wedding hall complete with huge wreaths of paper roses and carnations in lurid colours.

A crowd of mostly young volunteers trails after him. He looks exhausted and puffs out his cheeks and exhales when the local MLA and his minder, Radhakrishna Das Aggarwal, chides him about all the things that are wrong with his campaign.

"You must get back into the city before 6 pm. That way you can meet people and supporters in the city, instead of wasting your time lurching around in the dark in the villages," Aggarwal is telling him.

Ravi Kishan looks at the milling crowds, briefly shuts his eyes, and then squaring his shoulder, invites me to an ante room for an interview.

The anteroom soon fills up with people, but he ignores them. He got to know on April 14 that he was the BJP nominee for the Gorakhpur seat and left shooting in Kochi (with Mr Bachchan and Chiranjeevi Sir) to do 'seva' in Gorakhpur.

He began life as an actor in Ramleela (he played Sita) in his home town of Jaunpur in 1991 and then, from small film parts, was offered bigger roles until he came to be known as the biggest actor in Bhojpuri cinema. He has done a stint in Big Boss and has made his way into Hindi, Telugu and Tamil industries.

He could have lived anywhere, had anything... why the hot, dusty and exhausting business of politics and elections? From him it doesn't sound like a cliché. "I don't know politics, only the pain of the people. I am a country boy. I wanted to give something back," he breathes.

What is he? A millionaire? A billionaire? And doing this? He nods to both. "Somewhere along the line, I felt I was getting lost. Thanks to a great man like Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (born Ajay Singh Bisht), I found my way," he says.

Adityanath didn't deign to attend his nomination. "But his blessings are with me. He will be coming here to campaign for me," he says.

Kishan may have his heart in the right place, but he is seen by the BJP workers as an object of some amusement. When he moved into temporary digs after he started his campaign, he insisted that state of the art gym equipment be installed in a spare room.

He is a fanatic about working out. And gyms are a promise to his electorate, along with a place of pride to actors and 'kalakars'.

"We are creative people. We are artists. I am determined to counter the campaign that we are just 'naachne gaane wallah". He says. "Not everyone can be a doctor or an engineer or an IAS officer. Any form of art is a job. Actors are sensitive people. They are not brainless, as people often think."

His campaign punchline is: "Zindagi jhund ba! Gathbandhan ke mooh band ba (Life is a mess/and the Grand Alliance has its mouth shut).'

It leaves BJP workers a bit confused and bewildered ("is jhund even a word?" one of them asked another). But the people roar in approval.

"Everyone wants a piece of me," Kishan says in a sudden panic. "They want my hands, my clothes, my shoes... they're touching me, feeling my presence."

But when asked about what the Nishad community might feel about him, his reply is pure politics. He stands up and says grandly: "I am an actor. I have no caste".

Aditi Phadnis Gorakhpur
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