The most newsy election event

Modi, his oratory and his helicopter impress folks – mostly


Ashish Mehta | December 13, 2012

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi addresses the audience at Pavi-Jetpur
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi addresses the audience at Pavi-Jetpur

A Modi meeting, even if it was in the neighbouring Pavi-Jetpur, was probably the biggest election event for Achhala so far. Though it was a different constituency, the rally had all BJP candidates from the region, including Giulsinh, on the dais.

On Sunday, then, as I waited at the small road to Tejgah, BJP supporters from Achhala were busy gathering other supporters. I counted ten vehicles – from rundown jeeps and small local passenger transport vehicles to budget SUVs, decorated to various degree – only a small board at the front with Modi’s photo and the campaign tagline ‘Ekmat Gujarat’ (Unanimous Gujarat) to banners depicting the chief minister and the local candidates. If there were some riding on top of the vehicles, they invariably were wearing the full gear of a Modi mask, a saffron cap and a saffron scarf with the party symbol around the neck.As our party of 16 finally assembled and we took our seats in the Toofan (a Mahindra Maxx SUV), the conversation for no reason turned to the village politics: a former sarpanch who still called the shots had decided to frame an application from the village for some welfare scheme in a certain way, many were not happy with the way it was proceeding, and finally a couple of villagers from a generation below the sarpanch had challenged him. “If we had not raised the voice, we all would have continued to live with injustice,” one said, though it was difficult to follow the details.

The talk of justice then turned the conversation to Mahatma Gandhi. “I follow Gandhi in such matters: ‘I will die the death of a crow or a dog but will speak only truth’. I say only what is right and I am not afraid to do so,” said Arvind Rathwa. Somebody said, but it was a difficult path. “Difficult it is, indeed,” he agreed. Another fellow passenger joked, “We should make Arvind our sarpanch,” and everybody smiled.

This led to a criticism of leaders, presumably at the local levels. “We call them sahib, but if they don’t do our work, how are they sahibs then? Now people are aware. Self-styled leaders have been thrown aside.”

The vehicle, now on the highway to Vadodara, was stopped by a small BJP team, with their leader in crisp starched ironed spotless white kurta-churidar – the contrast to our party of farmer-tribals could not have been more. The team noted down the name of the village we were coming from. One of us explained to no one in particular, “Expenses (meaning accounts). Expenses will have to be settled, right?”

The twin towns of Pavi-Jetpur, a taluka headquarters, are not more than 15 km from Achhala, and soon it was the rally venue, the agricultural market yard, where upwards of 5,000 people had gathered and more were streaming in. One more item from the BJP campaign kit was on display here: saffron T-shirts, with a picture of Swami Vivekanand on the front and Narendra Modi at the back: no party name or symbol necessary.

The BJP in-charge of the region, Bharat Pandya, and the Lok Sabha member from Chhota Udepur (who represents these parts too), Ramsinh Rathwa, made their short speeches, canvassed for the three assembly election candidates also present there and introduced a slew of the current generation members from the former princely families of Chhota Udepur and neighbouring rajwadas who bowed down to the crowd.

People cheered – at the sound of the helicopter above, some clapped and some even whistled. The large shamiana came in the way, but those on the sidelines rushed to have a look at the flying machine. The speaker who was holding forth too took note, “As you can hear, Modisaheb’s helicopter has arrived.”

A rather large-sized, king-sized, garland of roses and a traditional cap of the local variety were offered to Modi, and he put both aside to begin his speech. He mentioned by name two people of the town he knew and reminisced his days spent here working for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). So, this was the difference between his 3D live cast rally and a live rally. No wonder, so many vehicles from Achhala and other interior villages had come here – they were missing in the 3D event at Chhota Udepur two weeks ago.

Modi pressed on. “I spent a long time in this area. I used to come for the Shakha (the branch, of RSS) work, and in after hours used to learn horse-riding. I travelled on a scooter to every village here. I know this region very well, I know the pains and hardships you face. That is why I have announced the formation of a separate Chhota Udepur district (from Vadodara district, on next January 26) so that your problems are solved right in your region.”

After a series of claims of achievements at the state level and another series of attacks on the Congress and Ahmed ‘Miyan’ Patel, which fully entertained the crowd, he returned to another local problem. The ‘108’ ambulance service, started by the state government in association with an NGO years ago, helped people in remote villages get medical help in time. “Earlier, when some sister or daughter in the tribal family fell sick, you had to carry her in a tractor or a Tempo, and by the time you reached the doctor, she even died. Now, you dial 108 and doesn’t Modi’s gaadi (vehicle) come in 15 minutes at your doorstep? (‘Yes’, responded the crowd.) Does it charge even a single paisa? (‘No’.) The Congress could not do even such a little work. It does not know your pain.”

Modi also reminded people of the Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana his government had announced for the welfare of the tribals with a Rs 15,000-crore budget at the time of the 2007 elections. Finally, the last thing: “Don’t undervalue your vote. You are not electing only the legislator. Press the button next to the ‘phul’ (flower, that is, lotus) and the flower will reach me in Gandhinagar.” A neat half an hour speech, and he is hurried away to the next venue.

In the crowd of thousands, I lost my company, and I took a shared auto known in Gujarat as Chhakado (six-seater) to return home. Two elderly folks started chatting.

-- Are you coming from the meeting?
-- Our monthly salary is fixed, why break the legs?
-- We had come to listen (to Modi).
-- (Is he) giving something?
-- Nothing. But he is powerful, hence this big crowd.

-- Facilities have increased, yes, but who bears the burden? Us. Diesel has become costlier. Does anybody say that we would reduce the price of diesel? They should be asked if they are going to reduce prices of diesel and fertiliser.

-- But, you know, who will go to bell the tiger?




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