Telegraph Calcutta

The SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh has unleashed a resistance the BJP cannot ignore

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Beyond the abject predictability of Varanasi, beyond the limits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, eastern UP begins to resemble the Bihar of 2015: a battle, a girded loin battle, between a juggernaut on the roll and newly aligned armies determined to grind it to a halt. You head towards Ghazipur or Chandauli, you head towards Jaunpur or towards Bhadohi, you head up north towards Gorakhpur, you head towards Mirzapur —- the pattern everywhere is the same: robust rival caste and creed formations locked in an intense smash and grab game.

In the Bihar of 2015, the challenge to the BJP came from the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. In 2014, the BJP had swept Bihar, taking more than 30 of its 40 Lok Sabha seats. But in 2015, bitter rivals Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar joined hands.

The BJP was routed. Here in the districts of UP’s Purvanchal, the SP-BSP alliance has unleashed a resistance whose prowess even the BJP’s election managers acknowledge. “Yahan Varanasi chhod ke kai seats mein fight hai,” a senior BJP leader visiting to oversee the campaign tells The Telegraph, “I am not saying we won’t do well, but yes, we are facing the heat. It is something we will have to work to overcome.”

As you leave Varanasi and enter the rural dustbowl, you’re likely to sense the high Modi decibel falling away and the clamour of a more even contest beginning to make itself heard.

Your hear “Contest hai”; you hear “phansaa hua hai maamla”; you hear “kaante ki takkar”. You don’t often hear what was heard at high pitch in Bihar next door this campaign and even elsewhere in UP, you don’t hear “Modi-Modi”, you don’t hear “Modi hi mudda hain”. You don’t hear the refrain that Modi alone is enough to swing it.

In Mirzapur for instance, Anupriya Patel, Union minister and Apna Dal leader, must rally her own troops and wage her own battles rather than rest easy on the Modi reputation.

“Anupriyaji has the support of her caste base and sections the BJP brings,” says Ratan Patel, an Apna Dal worker in Chunar, about 30 kilometres west of Varanasi, “But the others also have their votes, it’s a strong vote this time because the SP and BSP have combined. The fight will be hard.”

Rather than on Modi, the Patel camp may be keener on other factors at play. Which way, for instance, will the Muslim vote split between the SP-BSP and the Congress. Or whether the Congress’s Lalitesh Tripathi will manage to break the Brahmin vote. Or again, will the SP-BSP nominee, Ram Charitra Nishad (he is the sitting BJP, yes BJP, MP from Machhalishahar, and his switch might tell its own tale) be able to woo the substantive sections of the non-Yadav OBCs? The combinations and permutations are shifting and shuffling, like shards in a kaleidoscope.

Modi remains a factor, undeniably, but not a singular factor that can change fortunes. Neither does he soar above the field as the invincible one.

Often, you’ll hear him being dismissed out of hand. “Modiji kya hain? Dugdugiya madari hain, tamasha karte hain, bheed jutate hain, paanch saal mein aur kya kiye? (What is Modi? He is a street showman, he does tamashas and he gathers crowds, what else has he done in five years?)”

That may sound like a provocative shot fired to fetch a response from the few sheltering from the heat under a huge peepal.

It is past noon, and the Ganga ghat at Chunar lies bleached under the sun. Only young boys and buffaloes have dared the distance to the riverbank. Girija Prasad Yadav, the man who has just spanked the Modi reputation in public, holds his dare and looks around if there’s a response coming.

It does, soon enough, and it is another jibe at Modi. “Arrey madari nahin, Tughlaq hai Modi, roj naya drama-nautanki, kano kuchh, kabhi kuchh. Note bandi kiya, phir bhool gaye kitna bada julum janta pe kiye. Pulwama mein sipahi mare, laash pe naachne lage. Aisa koi pradhan mantri hota hai?” (Modi is like Tughlaq, every day something new. He did demonetisation, then forgot what an atrocity he had committed on people. Soldiers died in Pulwama, he started dancing on their bodies. What sort of Prime Minister is he?)”

This time it is a Nishad, a non-Yadav OBC, who has spoken up. Kirparam Nishad is his name and he runs a small kirana store in the bustee nearby. “2014 mein aaraam se jeete thhe, iss baar yahan woh maamla nahin hai. (The last time Modi had won comfortably, this time it’s not the same.)”

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/the-sp-bsp-alliance-in-uttar-pradesh-has-unleashed-a-resistance-the-bjp-cannot-ignore/cid/1690838?ref=india_home-template

Telegraph Calcutta

Understanding the Modi voter’s mind

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The converted, by definition, are not going to be convinced by anything contrary. It’s the reason they are converts. Durgesh Jaiswal probably knows there are flaws to the worldview that cocoons him, but you cannot take him anywhere near the possibility of admitting them.

Durgesh believes he lives in Pakistan. His full address is this: Lad Bhairon, Kazzakpura, Saraiya, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Translated in Durgesh’s head: Pakistan. Varanasi, the centre of the Hindu world, from philosophy to practice to its very physicality. But to Durgesh, Pakistan, or littered with many Pakistans.

“Hum log apne hai desh mein ghir gaye hain, saans nahin le sakte. Isse bachne ke liye Modiji kaa hona bahut zaroori hai, aur woh kuchh karen, nahin karen, isse koi matlab nahin. (We have been encircled in our own country, we can’t breathe. For this reason it is essential that Modiji remains there, whether he does anything else or not, I am not bothered).”

It is quite possible Durgesh, unemployed and in his mid-twenties, feels exactly how he says it: suffocated at home. Kazzakpura, like most of old Varanasi crawling along the Ganga, is a teeming warren of bric-a-brac housing and retail commerce. It is also overwhelmingly populated with Muslims. “How can one feel comfortable among them? It’s suffocating, and it’s not acceptable. This is our country, India, and we have to live in Pakistan.”

There’s no reasoning with Durgesh on what Kazzakpura is or what it means to him. What he believes, he believes with absolutism. And it’s not about Kazzakpura alone; it’s about all of this country.

“Poora India hi Pakistan se bhara hua hai, aur iske liye Modiji chahiye. Sattar saal mein ek kaam nahin hua thha, woh kaam Modiji ne kiya. (All of India is full of Pakistans. The one thing that had not been done in 70 years, Modi has done).”

No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and othering of India’s largest minority, their formal notarising as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the enemy.

But Durgesh is not happy to stop at that, the othering is the first step, it cannot end here, it has to be taken forward. “Hum log kuchle jaa rahe hain apne hi desh mein, abhi bhi ghulam hain, iska kuchh karna hoga. Isiliye Modiji ki zaroorat hai. (We are being crushed in our own country, we are still slaves, something will have to be done. That’s why we need Modi.)”

It is this, essentially, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come to achieve — a confounding, and no less frightening, hypnosis on minds that has turned the bizarre into the believable. It is, if you like, Modi’s most efficient surgical strike — this instilling in India’s overwhelming majority a deep minority complex. It’s a project that has been in the works a long time, perhaps since before Durgesh was even born, but now the worm has been widely seeded. It wriggles in hearts and minds and it triggers a variety of symptoms — anger, suspicion, hatred, frustration, victimhood. You only have to sit Durgesh down and listen to him.

He doesn’t have horns on his head. He is as commonplace a youngster as you will come across. He wears ripped jeans and fluorescent trainers. His favourite food is Maggi noodles. He rides a bike and won’t mind acquiring a female pillion. He uses up 1.5 GB data on his phone each day. He can flash the most endearing smile. He is keen on the ICC World Cup. Somewhere along the conversation he also tells you he is a member of the Samajwadi Party (SP).

Clanger. What? SP? The same which is fighting Modi tooth and nail and which boasts of Muslims as its core votebank? “That’s the only problem with SP, they back the wrong guys, otherwise I have no issues with it. It is my party of choice. And please don’t bring in Modiji into this, Modiji is different, he is not about parties, he is above all this, he is essential.”

And because Modiji is Modiji, nothing he does, or does not do, must be criticised or questioned. Unemployment is not his fault, it always existed; the shaken economy is not his doing, when was the economy great; the deterioration of the situation in Kashmir is proof that Modiji is doing something right, he has driven them to desperation; his laughable description of why he thought a clouded sky was opportune for the Balakot airstrike is not at all laughable, it is Modiji’s “unique way” of explaining a complex military decision in “simple language”.

Unemployment is not his fault, it always existed; the shaken economy is not his doing, when was the economy great; the deterioration of the situation in Kashmir is proof that Modiji is doing something right, he has driven them to desperation; his laughable description of why he thought a clouded sky was opportune for the Balakot airstrike is not at all laughable, it is Modiji’s “unique way” of explaining a complex military decision in “simple language”.

There, in fact, lies in the sameness of responses of Modi supporters from remote and unconnected pockets from Bihar to Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, a key element of this election: the Modi machinery is leagues ahead in the communication game, it has anticipated chinks and parcelled out the mortar to plug them. The messaging to his constituency is clear and it has spread like napalm. Everybody, all across, is chanting the same defence of Modi’s indefensible lapses and failures.

By contrast, the Congress’ election call hasn’t travelled; to the carpet bombing of the Modi message, it is a bit of a dud. Rafale and “Chowkidar chor hai” don’t resonate much beyond the Congress dais; the cry on unemployment and an economy under shock remain lost in translation. The fancied promise of NYAY has no frisson with the voter.

A contrary version of “nyay” does; it’s the one Durgesh has turned a Modi devotee for.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/modis-most-efficient-surgical-strike-instilling-a-minority-complex-in-indias-majority/cid/1690735

Telegraph Calcutta

Modi-bhakti, a marvel stupefying after its own fashion

When he had come here in 2014 in his newly minted “chaiwala” avatar, Narendra Modi had grandiosely declared that the next time he comes he’ll sit down for tea with a spoon of sugar from the Motihari sugar mill. The mill had been closed for decades, but Modi was a man of his word; if he had said it, he would do it, ran the belief.

Modi can make that promise once again. The Motihari sugar mill remains what it was in 2014: shut. The periphery and the insides have been colonised by wild overgrowth, the mill itself is a rusted carcass of ironwork; it’s a miracle the shell hasn’t begun to fall off. This mill isn’t the only one wasting away on the promise of revival. The Chakia sugar mill not far away remains shut. The Motipur sugar mill a little further down remains shut. East Champaran is also abundant in litchi; a processing and market complex had been promised by Modi in 2014. That promise too can be made by the Prime Minister again.

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This stretch, like scores of others across the nation, is littered with the debris of promises forgotten or forsaken. The absence of public toilets and the preponderance of public filth. The persisting drought of opportunities that drummed-up projects like Make in India and Startup India had promised to bring. Struggling, subsistence farm holdings. Most of all, raging unemployment whose symptoms are the droves of youngsters batting flies at every crossroads, every village adda you come to pass: “Kya karte ho?” “Abhi to kuchho nahin.” (What do you do? At the moment nothing.)

But Modi-bhakti is a marvel stupefying after its own fashion, a plague fallen on reality and reason alike, a submission almost imperforate. It will not admit to the most flagrant lapses of its adopted deity, it will in fact argue back in defence.

No jobs. “But so what, if everyone gets a job who will till the fields?”

No industry. “And show me one industry that was here before Modi came?”

No impact of Swachh Bharat. “Do you expect the Prime Minister to clean your toilet? If people have filthy habits, what can Modiji do?”

The ransacking of public money by corporate carpetbaggers. “Arrey, it is because of Modiji’s fear that people like Nirav Modi and Choksi have run away, or else they would still be looting us.”

The mutilation of institutions such as the Election Commission, the CBI and even the Supreme Court? “Modiji ne sabko seedha kar diya.” (Modi has straightened everybody).

You might have expected the lone and despairing man posted to guard the wilderness of the Motihari sugar mill to be a little annoyed Modi hasn’t bothered with his promise. But he isn’t.“Agar iss mill kaa koi kuchh uddhaar kar sakta hai to Modiji, lekin unpar aur bhi badi-badi jimmewari sab hai. Desh surakshit rakhna hai,” he says. (If anyone can revive the destiny of this mill, it is Modiji, but he has more onerous responsibilities to fulfil. The country has to be kept safe.)

But it is not as if other voices do not populate this geography; very often they are forceful and girded for a fight. On our way back to Patna we halt at a tea stall. It’s raining fire from the skies, a dozen or so men are sheltering under the shade of the peepal. One of them is on his phone and laughing.

“Modiji ne sabka hawa phuss kar diya hai, social media par to ekchhatra raaj hai.… Facebook par bhi Modi-Modi hai.” (Modi has punctured the opposition. On social media he rules unopposed, Facebook is all Modi-Modi).

Another joins in: “India Modiji ke wajah se hi bacha hua hai, nahin to Pakistan kabjaa kar leta.” (India is safe because of Modiji, else Pakistan would have captured us).

This is too much for Bindeshwar Das, a wizened villager sitting nearby, to stomach. “2014 ke pehle humlog Pakistani kabja mein thhe kya? 1971 me Bangladesh Modi ne banwaya? 1965 ka ladai Modi lada? Yeh desh Modi ke baap ka hai kya?” (Were we under Pakistan before 2014? Did Modi create Bangladesh in 1971? Did he fight the 1965 war? Does this nation belong to Modi’s father?)

For a moment everybody is staggered. Then the Modi apologist responds angrily: “Don’t raise your voice against Modiji, he is our tallest leader, our Prime Minister.”

“You can’t take away my freedom to speak, nobody can,” Das shoots back, “I am not going to lose my rights at this age, many Prime Ministers have come and gone; it is we who make and remove them, don’t forget. Don’t take anything for granted, Modi ke naam par sab pagal nahin hain (not everybody is mad after Modi).”

We are in Vaishali, north of the Ganga from Patna. RJD veteran Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, in probably his last electoral contest, is pitted against Veena Devi of the LJP. Even detractors concede that Raghuvansh has the “chhavi” (image) advantage — a clean leader who as rural development minister in the UPA government built a reputation for nursing the constituency. Veena Devi, on the other hand, suffers for reputation. Her husband is a tainted contractor, and she herself has not much to go by in terms of what she may have contributed to Vaishali, an entirely rural belt.

Even those who ride the Veena Devi bandwagon aren’t able to defend her or her husband. But they have a fallback: “Modiji hain naa, Modiji ke wajah se jeet jaai Veena Devi taa jeet jaai… khali agar Modiji kaa jaadu chale.” (There’s Modiji, if Modiji becomes a factor Veena Devi may win, but if Modiji’s magic works.”

Telegraph Calcutta

People may be silent, but they will want to be counted: Tejashwi Yadav

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The palpable pro-Narendra Modi pulse doesn’t tell the whole Bihar story, not by a far distance. There’s a counter-narrative in play, and a robust one. It’s not an extrovert narrative, it doesn’t seek to dominate the chatter in town squares and rural crossroads, its decibel is subdued, often by design. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

A good location to get a sense of it is the ringside of the campaign calls of RJD spearhead Tejashwi Yadav. It’s one place where the other side to Modi feels bold enough to rear it head and roar; the other would, of course, be the privacy of the ballot booth. The Modi voter is vocal and socially ultra-aggressive; the competition often prefers silence, and speaks only when it can sense the strength and security of numbers.

I spent a day choppering across Bihar, north and south of the Ganga, with Tejashwi. Here are vignettes from that outing and snatches of conversations with the RJD leader.

As we begin spiralling down over Lakhisarai in Munger (Lallan Singh of JDU versus Anant Singh of RJD), we see droves converging on the meeting ground, like bees to a honeycomb. By the time the chopper rotors halt and Tejashwi steps down, a flank of the barricading has collapsed under the press of people lunging for him. The air is rent with dust and “Tejashwi! Tejashwi!!” It’s already getting oppressively hot and humid.

There’s a visible peppering of Muslims — men, women, their children who are most keen on the helicopter —- and, predictably, a preponderance of those whose names end in Yadav or Rai or Ahir. They make a tight crowd. They make a very noisy and energised crowd. They are the Lalu Prasad kind of crowd, turned out in numbers partly also because Lalu cannot. “Hum log ke neta ko jail mein band kar diya hai, abhi support dikhana aur jaroori hai (They have kept our leader locked up in jail, we need to show our support all the more now),” Lachhman Yadav, a small dairy owner tells me.

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He is riveted on Tejashwi, who spends more time reaching the podium and heading back — having to plough through a raucous throng — than he spends getting jostled at the lectern. Tejashwi makes his points directly and succinctly and this is broadly what he’d tell his audiences all day:

  • The return of Modi raj will endanger the Constitution and India’s plurality
  • The return of Modi raj will endanger reservations for the underprivileged and government job prospects
  • Prohibition is a trick Nitish Kumar has played to fill his coffers with bootlegging cash
  • There’s a deep conspiracy to keep Lalu Prasad imprisoned and isolated during elections and that conspiracy needs to be defeated

Lakhisarai is repeated chopperstop upon chopperstop. The same exhort to the crowds, and pretty much the same crowds: alive, rippling, exuding almost a sense of common purpose and relief that there is someone up on stage to amplify a counter-narrative to the Modi juggernaut.

We fly off — bump along in 3,000-feet turbulence, rather — to three destinations north of the great river — Ujiarpur (state BJP chief Nityanand Rai versus RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha), Darbhanga (Gopalji Thakur of the BJP versus RJD veteran Abdul Bari Siddiqui), Simri (a rural outback on the Kosi riverbank, part of Darbhanga). We end the day at Jehanabad (Surendra Yadav of the RJD versus Chandreshwar Prasad of the JDU) back south of the Ganga.

The Jehanabad crowd is the biggest and the most vigorous of the day; it seduces Tejashwi into staying so long on stage that the chopper pilot sends word he’s leaving without his charge for the day; it’s getting dark, he must get to Patna before night closes in. Tejashwi will have to do the home run by road. “Not that I mind,” he says, at the end of the day, “These people had been waiting in the heat all day, couldn’t leave just because I had to catch the chopper.”

The Telegraph: Is this going to be a repeat of 2014? Modi is everywhere. And he has Nitish on his side

Tejashwi Yadav: Look, it’s a battle and we are in it. We have far fewer resources, the administration is trying every trick in the book to impede us, even chopper landing permissions are a problem. But we are fighting back hard. People may be silent now, but they have votes, each one of them, they will want to be counted, mark my words. People make a mistake when they say we only have Muslims and Yadavs backing us. Don’t forget we have added the Kushwaha, Musahar and Nishad vote, they matter in almost all constituencies, we will spring surprises, just watch.

TT: Are you missing your father? You are making a big point of his internment

Tejashwi: Of course. No one can communicate better, nobody has such energy, he oozes energy. We are missing him hugely, and he is being denied bail deliberately. If he and I were campaigning, dividing the work, we would have swept.

TT: Your brother Tej Pratap is in open rebellion, is he hurting you?

Tejashwi: No.

TT: Why could you not contain him, though?

Tejashwi: There are people around him who have ambitions and they provoke him. He will learn soon, he will not be a problem.

TT: Modi has a strong narrative, an ultra-nationalist narrative that many have bought into. What is yours?

Tejashwi: Our narrative is the narrative of the Constitution, of saving the Constitution. Of strong pro-poor, secular politics, of giving everybody their deserved place. Ours is not a narrative of fear and hate. And you can see people respond readily to that narrative. India has been derailed, we have to get it back on track.

TT: Did you take Rahul Gandhi by surprise by endorsing him as Prime Minister at Samastipur? That was your first rally together

Tejashwi: I think I did, yes. Privately he knew my views, of course, but he may not have expected a public declaration from me. I think it was time. There was some chatter that we were not on the same page, that we were not campaigning together. I wanted to put an end to that. Now there is no confusion.

TT: Why did you not support Kanhaiya Kumar in Begusarai, though? Many argue you should have been large-hearted enough if you are serious about strengthening anti-Modi voices.

Tejashwi: But he (Kanhaiya) is contesting against secularism. Our candidate Tanweer Hassan lost Begusarai last time by less than 50,000 votes. Do you expect me to sacrifice him? And the argument for Kanhaiya is he can talk straight to Modi. Who cannot? And why are you campaigning for a man who can talk straight to Modi? Are you assuming he is becoming PM again? I am not assuming that, I want Modi defeated now, in this election.

Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar allies dwarfed & domineered by Modi

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A video clip snowballing all across may contain clues to political consequences in Bihar well beyond May 23.

It shows chief minister and JDU boss Nitish Kumar twisting uneasily in his chair as Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds hands with BJP colleagues on stage and takes the crowd through a shrill “Vande Mataram” drum-roll. Stuck on stage, Nitish doesn’t participate in the chant, but he seems not to know where to look.

The message has been conveyed close to his bone — the BJP wouldn’t flinch from playing a bully ally, and would turn more aggressively on the JDU and the LJP to toe the line. As the Modi shadow looms larger on Bihar, the BJP’s partners — the JDU and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP — too are feeling dwarfed and domineered. Modi effect has scathed them too, and might rub them harder after May 23.

Nitish, for instance, has avoided putting out a manifesto this election because the BJP had drawn a few red lines for him: drop commitments to Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code, and endorse construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Not willing to comply, but not able to defy, Nitish shelved the manifesto altogether.

It’s clear from the tenor of the campaign that Modi is far and away the only leader in whose name NDA candidates are contesting; most often NDA contestants get no mention from the voter, it’s Modi they are endorsing and it is he who is making the difference between victory and defeat. The BJP will bring that factor to bear upon its Bihar allies.

Bihar goes to the polls next year and it may be a cause of some worry to the JDU and the LJP that Modi has come to be established as the overarching electoral factor.

The BJP may, in fact, drastically review ceding exaggerated space to allies — Nitish’s JDU and Paswan’s LJP — and contesting only 17 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.

Privately, senior BJP leaders are already beginning to admit the allies may be a drag on the NDA’s strike rate. In particular the JDU, which was given 17 seats to contest when it had only two sitting MPs.

In effect, the BJP lost five seats even before the polls began because it had 22 MPs in the last Lok Sabha. “Having allies and building a broader social coalition is essential but the distribution of seats was loaded disproportionately against us,” a senior BJP leader here admitted, adding, “It is clear we are much stronger on the ground in Bihar than our seat share suggests.”

The future of the alliance in Bihar — and how seats get shared in the 2020 Assembly polls — would also depend on who secures how many seats in the Lok Sabha polls. The JDU and the LJP are, therefore, keen on their “strike rate” being good. And both are worried about losing out.

The Paswans of the LJP have more to worry, the campaign suggests. The NDA backroom is not convinced Chirag Paswan has won in Jamui, their hope is he may scrape through.

In Samastipur and Hajipur, both reserved seats, the Paswan brothers Ram Chandra and Pashupati Paras, respectively, are fighting against widespread resentment; voices off the trail suggest that in both constituencies people are angry for having been taken for granted by the Paswan clan.

“We are not here to serve the interests of the Paswans who seem to think they are our only choice, they can’t take us for granted,” a Paswan votary at Sarai Ranjan in Samastipur said. In Hajipur too, part of the campaign has taken the shape of a “Pashupati bhagao” tableau. The Paswans are resourceful, and they are backed by the Modi cry, but they have good reason to be concerned.

The slightest dip, and the BJP could begin pushing them to the side. Some have even begun to suggest that if the BJP does better than its partners, it will ride roughshod even at the expense of breaking the alliance and proceeding alone, or with a reworked alliance whose engine is the BJP rather than the JDU.

The prospect that the current arrangement may not work in 2020 is the chief reason Nitish is conveying visible signals of discomfort with the BJP, as he did from the Modi stage in Darbhanga.

Telegraph Calcutta

Why Modi? Without him, there is no security, say voters

In a state dominated by two rival titans for three decades, a third man has grabbed pole position. His name is not Lalu Prasad or Nitish Kumar. He is not a Bihari either. He comes from the other end of India’s breadth; his name is Narendra Modi.

Five years after he made an audacious attempt on Bihar and swept it, Modi has come to establish himself as the single most important arbiter of electoral choices. Especially so in north Bihar’s Mithilanchal districts.

You either love Modi or you loathe him; the bold point subscript of this election is just that: Modi versus the rest. And the question that gets asked bluntly and very often is: “If not Modi, who? Is there another candidate Prime Minister we can see? Koi hai race mein (Is there anybody else in the race)?”

Where the NDA appears to be doing well, as in Madhubani, it is in Modi’s name; people can’t seem to be bothered who the local candidate is. A response you must expect and eventually tire of hearing as you travel across north Bihar goes: “Modiji kaa vote hai, local mein kaun khara hai isse kya matlab, Modi ko PM banana hai (The vote is for Modi, who cares who the candidate is, the vote is to make Modi Prime Minister again).”

Where the NDA prospects appear a little uncertain, as in Ujiarpur, it is Modi who is expected by candidate and votary alike to tilt the balance. “Candidate theek nahin hai, lekin Modiji hain naa, vote to unhi ko padega, candidate se kya matlab hai (The candidate isn’t good, but there is always Modi, the vote is for him. Why should we bother about the candidate)?”

Where the NDA is panting behind the Mahagathbandhan in the race, as here in Samastipur, it is again Modi, and Modi alone, who can save the day with some miracle. “Modiji kaa jaadu chala to kuchh ummeed hai yahan, aur koi kuchh nahin kar sakta. Lekin yahan jo bhi ho, PM to Modiji hi banenge (There is hope only if the Modi magic can do something, nobody else can help. Even so, whatever happens here, Modi will become Prime Minister).”

In the summer of 2014, these parts were in blind rapture with Modi; the carpet cry was to bring him on as Prime Minister. Five years later, that sentiment is intent on keeping him in office — that rapture remains undiminished among large sections that turned to Modi at the expense of local leaders five years ago.

There is one critical, and pertinent, difference: in 2014, Modi arrived on a wave of hope, this time he is marketing fear and playing chief insurance agent against “threats to national security”. It is the one factor that has been sold to near perfection: if there is no Modi, there is no security. “Modiji nahin rahenge pradhan mantri to Pakistan ko jawab kaun dega?”

What that has effectively achieved is to push Modi’s undelivered 2014 promises, his failures on many fronts, and the bushel of allegations the Opposition is thrusting in Modi’s face, beyond the scope of argument. “Desh hi surakshit nahin rahega to aur issues uthaane kaa kya matlab hai?” retorts Daya Prasad Singh, a public sector employee, lounging about a tea stall on the Samastipur-Darbhanga road. (What is the point in raising other issues when the nation cannot be kept secure?) Present company nods, there isn’t a sound disagreeing.

But has Modi not created the scare he is ensuring people against?

“Created?” Daya shoots back, affronted. “Are you saying Pulwama was created by Modi? Are you saying we would have been safe if he had not responded with Balakot? Kya baat karte hain... what are you talking about?”

The Modi following is hyper-political, almost cultish in the unquestioning way his votaries regard him. The result often is that there can be no interrogation of Modi’s record as Prime Minister — not on the downturn in employment, not on rural distress, not on the flight of mega scamsters, not on crony capitalists he has bred, not on controversial questions on the Rafale deal. Nothing.

Asked about the many financial scandals that have erupted during the Modi years, a schoolteacher seated beside Daya points to his cap. It is an AAPist paper cap, save that it is saffron of colour and written on it is “Main Bhi Chowkidar”. Argument over.

The owner of the shack has been listening in on the chatter. It’s a ramshackle shack, the owner has himself been yoked to the coal stove, clad in shorts and a torn vest.

How would Modi have altered his life and circumstances? “Not much, nothing at all in fact, I am the same as I was.”

And yet a Modi votary? “Ekdum,” he says emphatically, “Namak-roti khaayenge, Modi ko jitaayenge.”

Telegraph Calcutta

And So We Are On The Fences

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And so we are. Indeed. Where else would we be? These are our fences. We made them. But we choose not to see them. At the best of times. At the worst of times. Our fences are what we choose not to see. Fences? What fences? Nobody told us. Fences? Kothay?Where? I am so sorry, I cannot see them.

No? You can’t? You really cannot? Where might you be? Where are you located? Where is it that you might be located? May I ask? May I even dare? Forgive me, but where are you that you cannot see fences? Can you hear me? Or are you so terribly far away? Are you in a high place? Oh, thank goodness, and thank God, if you are in that terribly high place, you can probably look down. Look down and see. Look down and see where I am. Or we are. Or most of us are.

Worry not. Have no shame or embarrassment. Be not mortified. There is nothing wrong in looking down. You may look down. You may honourably look down. And then, perhaps, you may be able to see us. See who we are, where we are. Way down, way, way down, far way down your appointed gaze has ever allowed you to reach. But try. Try to look. Look down. Look down upon us. And we shall be grateful you looked down. At least you did. If not, at least you tried. To look down. Mercy be upon you.

There is a fence. Of course there is a fence. It is a darkened fence. It is a fence not easy to discern. Not for you at any rate. Because you have never seen this fence. You have never needed to. You have never ever required to come near. You have never ever required to see. You have never required. That is what it is: you have never required. What is it that you know about requiring?

I am on the other side. We are on the other side. You cannot see us. There is nothing to be seen. But we are nothing, and therefore it is only logical that we cannot be seen.

But we are there. So what if you cannot see us. You really cannot? Are we not visible? Ask Mahadeb. He will be able to help you see. He has a ThirdEye. Ask him. If you can find Him. And if He is willing.

And even so. So what if we cannot be seen. Should we make a spectacle of ourselves, now? Should we? Can you see God? Tell me? Tell us? And because you cannot see God, will you say God is not? Will you? And because you cannot see us, will you say we are not? Will you? Khauf karo Khuda ka!!Have fear. Have some fear. And have faith. For if you have no faith, there is only fear to have. Am I right? No? You have neither faith nor fear? Hmmm. Of course. Then you have the freedoms. No faith. No fear. Only freedoms. I can see. I can understand that. “I do not understand this… I have no faith… I have no fear… I have only freedoms…”

I can understand that. I do understand that. It is, in fact, a bit easy to understand that. Because you are who you are. You are on the other side of the fence. And I am on the other side from you. WE are from the other side to you. You cannot see. You cannot be bothered to see. You cannot be bothered to understand. It is for us to see. It is for us to understand. You will not. You may not. You need not. You are on the right side of the fence. WE are on the wrong side of the fence.

It is there, the fence. At least the fence you can see. You cannot? But you must. You have to. It is the fence, after all, that defines you. It is the fence that tells you that you are on the privileged side of it. That you can afford, courtesy of the side you are on, not to look or to know what is on the other side of it. Where WE are.

We. We. The MANY. As opposed to YOU. You, the few. Who cannot see. Or will not. Because the many are not for the few, the few are for the many. Is it not? It is the few who are because of the many who are; and the many are there, or must be, for the few. Or how else are the few to be who and how they are? Look. Look at the fence, and beyond it. You made the fence, look who you made it to keep out.

Let us see, let us please

Let us see what you can see

And let nobody be at any ease

If you will not let us be.