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Why Uma Bharti is banking on the 'Modi wave' to win from Jhansi

April 25, 2014 22:27 IST

Although a fiery speaker and mass leader in her own right, Bharti has to necessarily fall back on what is being repeatedly described as a ‘Modi lehar’ to wrest this seat from the Congress, observes Anita Katyal

Narendra Modi Kashi Se, Uma Bharati Jhansi Se (Narendra Modi from Kashi, Uma Bharti from Jhansi)” screams a huge hoarding at a local chowk in the dusty, bustling town in Uttar Pradesh.

This slogan has come to define the Bharatiya Janata Party’s high-profile candidate Uma Bharti’s election campaign, which has now entered a decisive phase as Jhansi prepares to vote for its next Lok Sabha member of Parliament on April 30. The seat is presently held by Pradeep Jain of the Congress.

With a few days left for polling day, Jhansi is witnessing a swirl of activity as top leaders of all political parties are making a last-ditch effort to woo the electorate. BJP president Rajnath Singh addressed a rally in nearby Lalitpur two days ago, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was in Jhansi on Thursday to seek support for the Samajwadi Party candidate Chandrapal Singh Yadav, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was here on Friday, while Modi is set to bring down the curtain on this high-voltage campaign with a mega rally on April 27.

Special Coverage: Election 2014

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati was also here earlier this week to pitch for her nominee Aradhana Sharma, whose family owns Baidyanath group of industries. Her son is married to the daughter of Mayawati’s key man, Satish Mishra.

Although a fiery speaker and mass leader in her own right, Bharti has to necessarily fall back on what is repeatedly described here as a “Modi lehar” to wrest this seat from the Congress.

Bharti remains a hot favourite with the womenfolk, who are clearly impressed with her decision to don saffron and her association with the Ram Janambhoomi movement.  She also enjoys the support of the Lodh caste to which she belongs.

But it is Modi’s projection as a strong, decisive leader and an agent of change which is driving the youth (irrespective of their caste affiliation), the upper castes such as Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasths to the saffron camp. The non-Yadav OBCs are also gravitating towards him because Modi is an OBC, a fact which has been successfully marketed by his camp followers.

In fact, upper castes are full of scorn for Bharti but they will vote for her as it translates into a victory for Modi. Take the case of Hari Om Srivastava or C S Shukla, both lawyers at the district courts in Jhansi. They are not particularly enamoured with Bharti, but they are all for Modi.

“Bharti would lose on her own accord but she is ahead in the race because of Modi,” remarks Srivastava.

Sitting in his little chamber in the court compound, he provides a keen analysis of how the Jhansi campaign has unfolded. The Congress, he explains, has slipped on the popularity charts because of price rise, charges of corruption against the United Progressive Alliance government and the Congress’ Pradeep Jain’s failure to deliver on his promises. The BSP is in the reckoning against the BJP in the urban areas while the battle in the rural belt is being fought between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party.

There may be some dispute about the BJP’s chief political opponent in Jhansi but there is little doubt that the saffron party now occupies the number one slot although it had lost the last two Lok Sabha polls.

“People are looking for a strong, powerful leader. They believe Modi fits the bill after (former prime minister) Indira Gandhi…they also believe he will be a good administrator,” says Srivastava who is also at pains to explain that Modi is not just an urban phenomenon but is also a familiar name in the rural areas because “each house in a village now has a television set and the electronic media has given exhaustive coverage to Modi.”

Bhagwan Singh Yadav from Mauranipur village agrees that the Modi wave has percolated down to the rural areas where he is a household name. However, his loyalty to his Yadav clansmen surfaces when he forcefully maintains that this election is a “takkar (clash) between the BJP and the SP’s Chandrapal Singh Yadav.”

Predictably, the Samajwadi Party comes down heavily on the “so-called Modi phenomenon”. The SP’s media in-charge, Shakeel Khan insists that Modi is nothing but a media creation.

“Of course, he is a known name in rural areas. If (slain al Qaeda chief) Osama Bin Laden was to take up residence in India, would he not become a talking point in villages. It’s the same case with Modi,” he retorts angrily to reports that Modi’s achievements are also being talked about in the rural hinterland.

Bhupendra Singh, who completed his mass communication course recently, maintains that the older generation Yadavs may pledge loyalty to SP’s Mulayum Singh Yadav but the youth is smitten with Modi.

“All my contemporaries, irrespective of their caste affiliation, are rooting for Modi. They have no answer when you ask them the reason for supporting Modi but they are …it is like a bhed chaal (herd behaviour) ,” he says. In an attempt to cash in on this mood among the youth, Bharti has even got a Facebook page, titled “Uma Bharti Jhansi se”.

While Modi may be making waves in Jhansi, Bharti’s camp followers never fail to point out that her personal contribution to the change of mood in favour of the BJP cannot be overlooked. According to her supporters, people here regard Bharti as “Bundelkhand ki beti (daughter of Bundelkhand),  and are convinced that this region would benefit if they ensure her victory as she has  national stature and is bound to become a minister in the Modi-led government.

 “Moreover, they are taken up by her forceful personality. The people here are fed up with the reign of terror unleashed by SP cadres. Bharti, they believe, will not hesitate to take on the local administration and provide them the much-needed protection,” says a Bharti aide.  

Even as Bharti is banking on the “Modi factor”, her campaign managers make it a point to highlight her personal qualities, even making an indirect comparison between her and Rani Lakshmibai, popularly known as Jhansi ki Rani.

One of the many slogans plastered at the BJP’s office here reads “Kashi ka karaz chukana hai, Jhansi mein kamal khilana hai (Have to pay Kashi’s debt, make the lotus bloom in Jhansi),” said to be reference to Rani Lakshmibai who was born in Varanasi and a clear attempt to claim her legacy.

Although the BJP camp exudes quiet confidence, there is also concern that the Samajwadi Party will use the state machinery to its advantage. BJP’s regional media in-charge Sudhir Aggarwal said their office has been receiving reports about their workers and supporters being intimidated.

“Village pradhans (heads) are being told that they would lose their position, farmers are being threatened that their tractors would be confiscated and public distribution system shop owners have been warned that their foodgrain quotas will be cancelled if they do not ensure a vote in favour of the SP,” he charged.

In fact, the BJP campaign has also picked up speed after its strategists put out stories that the SP government would be dismissed once Modi forms the government in Delhi.        

Charges against the Akhilesh government are corroborated by the people on the street in Jhansi who never fail to point out that the SP government has become extremely unpopular because of the misuse of the state machinery by the party cadres.

“The law and order has worsened even as the lumpen elements in the party are having a field day. People are living in constant fear,” says Noor Ilahi, a Jhansi resident, adding that the SP would be a sure winner if vote is taken through a show of hands.

He makes it clear that his preference is for the BSP, stating emphatically that Modi will not be able to form the government as the BJP does not have any presence in the southern and eastern states. The Muslim voter here has clearly shifted allegiance from the SP to Mayawati’s BSP.

While the debate over Modi versus SP or Modi versus BSP continues endlessly, there is overall consensus that Congress Member of Parliament and a junior minister in the UPA government, Pradeep Jain has lost ground in Jhansi. He has alienated local party cadres and failed to monitor the implementation of the special financial package earmarked by the Centre for Bundelkhand given at Rahul’s behest.

“Everybody knows that the state government which was to implement the package does not belong to the Congress. But as a local MP, Jain should have taken up this matter more forcefully with the local administration,” a local Congress leader points out. As it happens, there is nothing to show on the ground for all the money sent by the UPA government.

But above all, Jain is paying the price for the inadequacies of the UPA government and Rahul’s failure to make an impact.

“Indira, (former prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi and (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi had an aura but not Rahul,” says Pravin Jain, owner-editor of the local daily newspaper Dainik Vishva Parivar, adding, “It is not Pradeep Jain who is losing here, but the Congress.”

Anita Katyal in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh