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No contest in Amethi and Varanasi

The so called ‘Big Fight’ in both these constituencies is all made up to generate excitement for TV. Amethi will go to Rahul Gandhi and Varanasi will go to Narendra Modi. I am willing to stick my neck out on this and call

The so called ‘Big Fight’ in both these constituencies is all made up to generate excitement for TV. Amethi will go to Rahul Gandhi and Varanasi will go to Narendra Modi. I am willing to stick my neck out on this and call.

Walking tall: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi walks with his mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi (C) and his sister Priyanka Gandhi (R), to file his nomination papers for the Parliamentary elections in Amethi on April 12. Pic/EPA

Having visited Amethi in 2004, 2009 and now in 2014, it is quite clear that nothing really changes in this town. In a Muslim village in Amethi, the headman tells me: We will vote for Rahul Gandhi. I am the third generation who has voted for this family. See that madrasa? Kids don’t need to walk long distances to study; we have electricity at minimum price. No, will never vote for the BJP. It is a dangai (rioting) party. Who is she? (Smriti Irani) No, they haven’t heard of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Why should we vote for SaPa (Samajwadi Party)? Did they protect our community in the several riots? Once the village elder has said this, mostly all the men and women echo this sentiment. I find open sewers, broken roads, power cuts, and underage children making tikkis and selling it on thelas instead of being at school. They grin when I ask them if they go to school. They dare not say no in front of frowning adults.

I stop at a Dalit village (mostly chamaar caste as one of the inhabitants tells me) in Amethi. Again the same talk initially, will vote Rahul because there is a ‘connect’. Some have benefited by NREGA, some by Indira Awaas Yojna.

Stay a little longer and then when they trust you more, the truth comes pouring out. They have BPL ID cards but the SP government has come up with a new ‘Soochi’ (list) and their names have magically disappeared.

There are dilapidated or abandoned buildings which were once factories set up to provide employment to the locals.

They still exist on paper. Just that nothing is produced and there are no workers. I saw some hyenas prowling menacingly near one such area. Then there are some tall buildings in the middle of nowhere. These are called Kasturbas by the locals. They are hostels set up for students who were supposed to be studying in nearby educational institutions. Only these institutes either never came up or then shut down or are too far from the hostel. Some of them are functional but the students from different areas in UP. Locals say, “hamey kya faida hua iss se’. And the roads, they don’t exist. Ask Akhilesh Yadav, and he tells you how smooth the roads in Saifai are, and then with child-like glee shows me glitzy videos of UP tourism.

Smriti Irani (BJP) and Kumar Vishwas (AAP) are mere tourists in Amethi and it is untouched by the Modi-lehar. The feudal mindset has never changed here. From Sanjay Singh and his ‘royal’ family to the Gandhi family, it is their jagir of sorts. Locals say, “agar yeh parivaar na hota toh kya aap (media) hamara haal poochne aatey?”

If you think even for a moment that casteism, communalism and feudalism is on the back burner, think again. While checking my Twitter feed in Amethi, I couldn’t but laugh out loud reading the outrage over BJP’s talking about a relook at India’s nuclear doctrine.

In most of India, it is still roti-kapda-makaan-bijli-sadak-pani. And then there are those who make it an election about ‘izzat’ in a land that was famous for its ‘Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb’ once upon a time: a happy coexistence of Hindu-Muslim cultures.

The 320-kilometre drive from Lucknow to Varanasi is back-breaking. The roads are broken, not a single pit-stop and you dare not travel after sun down. In Varanasi ‘Ab ki baar Modi Sarkaar’ posters are everywhere, even though Narendra Modi has not yet filed his nomination papers. From rickshaw pullers to the high priest at the Kashi Vishwanath temple to the boatman on the Ganga, they all talk of a ‘lehar’, some happily and others with resignation.

It is similar to the ‘Ab ki baari Atal Behari’ lehar. It is quite clear that in the Purvanchal area, despite some massive bungling in ticket distribution, the BJP is set to improve its tally. Kejriwal might draw crowds, Ajai Rai of Congress may be a strong local candidate, yet people from their own parties accept that it is impossible to beat Narendra Modi.

While it is a fact that people often lie to outstation reporters, I am pretty certain that Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are a shoo-in into the 16th Lok Sabha from Varanasi and Amethi.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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