Saturday, April 26, 2014

Nehru’s city retains its political chutzpah, Allahabadis await a keen contest

Allahabad: Jawaharlal Nehru’s stately home, Anand Bhawan, still retains it grandeur, though the pavement down the road is occupied by hawkers vending clothes, Janpath (in New Delhi) fashion. Visitors still throng to Anand Bhawan but it looks like it does not even resonate any more in the people’s consciousness any more. The people are tied down to the petty present with all its intrigues, especially the Lok Sabha election due on May 7.
The shopkeepers in Bahadur Ganj, a part of the derelict old part of the city, and the wits in the Indian Coffee House in the Civ il Lines, agree that there is a Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh and it will have its impact in Allahabad as well. The interesting twist in the proverbial tale is this: BJP candidate Shyama Charan Gupta had never won any election in his political career, and left on his own he would not win this time too. What should save him the day is the Modi factor. “Only Modi factor will help him, nothing else,” say the shopkeepers who sell hardware to medicines to mobile phones.
There is the general agreement that Modi wave will be helpful only if the candidate is good enough and the party cadre work hard enough to convert the popularity wave into votes and victory. The partymen are not too happy with Shyama Charan Gupta because he is not the one who goes out and he is on terms of familiarity with the cadre or with the residents.
The electioneering in earnest is starting today and there is keen interest about the outcome. No bets are however being placed because the ordinary Allahabadi who seems to have a sharpened political instinct is still unsure. At the moment, they are still weighing their options, and they are curious to know what the rest of the populace will do of this famous town with a population of nearly 14 lakh or 1.4 million, with migrants from Varanasi, Mirzapur and far-off Ballia who had come to study and seek work have grown their roots here. The old Allahabadi in a good humoured way does not grudge the presence of the newcomers.
They are all only too willing to discuss the pros and cons of the situation. The interesting candidate is the Congress’ Nand Gopal Gupta, popularly known as Nandi who is not a traditional Congressman. He was a minister in Mayawati’s government and he is remembered to have done his bit to spruce up the city. He has now defected to Congress after he had lost the assembly election in 2012. His wife, Abhilasha Gupta had won the mayoral election. She is now the first citizen of Allahabad.
There is folklore surrounding ‘Nandi’. He had a providential escape from a murderous assault, where his two guards were shot down. ‘Nandi’ would every morning visit a Shiva temple across the road and offer worship to the god. It is this piety that helped him escape, observes an old shopkeeper and owner of the building with a row of shops and it was near this that ‘Nandi’ used to stay sometime back. The other legend about ‘Nandi’ is that after turning himself into a rich in the course of his political career, he had spent liberally helping the poor with the marriages of their children. He would liberally contribute rice, wheat, sugar and clothes. And this he had been doing for more than a year as a gesture of sheer good will. But the wits say that this is not sufficient to win him the election and stem the Modi tide.
The third contestant is senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Rewati Raman Singh, who is the sitting MP from Allahabad. Though urban Allahabad will witness a fight between Congress and the BJP, the rural votes are either with SP or with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The BSP candidate Kesari Devi Patel is a tough challenger because the Kurmi vote – she is a Kurmi – along with that of Mayawati’s monopoly vote of the Dalits could help her edge past the rivals.
Allahabadis with a smile on their face at the end of the analyses of the prospects of all the candidates, say with a mischievous glint in the eye, “Nothing can be said about the outcome.”
The city of Nehru retains its political chutzpah , and the people are enjoying the ringside view of the political bout even as they discuss the nuances of each candidate and the intricacy of numbers each caste commands and which way it goes. “The Muslims in the city constitute a respectable chunk of two lakh voters, and they will make up their mind three days before the voting and go with some of the other caste groups who are voting against Modi and the BJP,” says the coffeehouse wit.

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