the din of a bitterly contested electoral battle between Mulayam Singh and
Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, two leaders still evoke great
respect and affection among the people of Uttar Pradesh — their names
cropping up, unbidden, in many a conversation throughout our journey
across large swathes of the state.
The first is Indira Gandhi, who is remembered most fondly by the rural
poor to this day. The second is Atal Bihari Vajpayee whose appeal
transcends caste, age and religion.
But if the nostalgia for Indira Gandhi is helping her grandson's Mission
UP in no small measure, the memory of Vajpayee is having the opposite
effect on the BJP. Far from enhancing the fortunes of the party, Vajpayee
is remembered with a sigh of regret, his absence highlighting the
"directionless and leaderless" state of the BJP.
Mohibullah Abbasi, a retired government servant who lives in a quiet leafy
colony in Lucknow, is no supporter of the BJP. But that has not diminished
his respect for Vajpayee who was once his MP. "Jaise ruh nikal jaaye aur
sirf body rahe jaaye, Vajpayee ke jaane ke baad, BJP mein kuch raha hi
nahin (just as a body turns lifeless after the soul departs, without
Vajpayee the BJP has been reduced to nothing)."
Abbasi may have never voted for the BJP, but his sentiments are echoed —
albeit less poetically — by young Amit Gupta at Fatehganj near Bareilly.
"Jabse Atal Bihari Vajpayee rajneeti chhoden, tabse BJP UP mein down hi
hoti gayi (ever since Vajpayee quit politics, the BJP has been going
downhill in UP)."
His father, once a staunch supporter of the BJP, adds: "Jhoote vaade karte
hain, isliye bhi BJP bahut ghat gayi hai (the BJP has shrunk also because
it makes false promises)." At one time, all the Brahmins, Thakurs and
Vaish (traders) firmly backed the party. Now the BJP cannot count on a
single one of them, Gupta says.
Hundreds of miles from Bareilly, we hear the same thing in Akbarpur.
Naveen Tripathi is quite certain that the BJP will poll less than even an
Independent despite the fact that the BJP alone has fielded a Brahmin
candidate and there is a substantial number of Brahmins in the
does the BJP have to offer today? What does it stand for? Why should we
take it seriously anymore? It is a party that promises something to come
to power and on getting power turns its back on the promise," he says,
referring to the Ram Mandir agenda which propelled the BJP to power in UP
and was then abandoned.
But even after the mandir fiasco, BJP attracted voters because of
Vajpayee, Tripathi feels. "A real leader draws people, gives a sense of
hope and direction. BJP has no such leader today."
Vajpayee was not just about charisma and oratory; the grid of "superfast"
national highways is his lasting legacy. "It takes just two-and-a-half
hours to reach Lucknow from Akbarpur, and that is thanks to Vajpayee's
vision," Tripathi insists.
At a roadside corner on the outskirts of Sitapur, Suman Shukla sells gol
gappas. He is too young to remember the Vajpayee era but like most people
of Uttar Pradesh, he breathes politics. In the Sitapur seat, the BJP's
Saket Mishra is quite popular but in Uttar Pradesh as a whole, the BJP is
on the decline, he says.
The Congress will form a government here sooner or later but the BJP has
no chance — "unke paas koyi neta hi nahin hai (they don't have any
leader)", oblivious to the fact that the BJP boasts of a battery of
leaders no party can match. None of them, he indicates, can hold a candle
to Vajpayee in terms of mass appeal — at least in Uttar Pradesh.
Shukla tries to recall the name of the BJP leader who recently addressed a
rally at Sitapur and after some time says: "I think it was someone called
BJP workers seem to be even more despondent than their one-time
supporters. At a place called Jangbahadurganj in Lakhimpur Kheri district,
Mahesh Kumar Gupta runs a small restaurant. He also happens to be the
chief of the local unit of the BJP — or so says his visiting card. But
he is not particularly active in the polls and candidly says: "Neta ki
kami se, Bhajpa har jagah fail ho rahi hai (because of the lack of
leadership, the BJP is failing everywhere)."
But doesn't Uttar Pradesh have many big leaders — Rajnath Singh, Kalraj
Mishra, Lalji Tandon, and now Uma Bharati? Gupta dismisses them as "too
big" and says "we need leaders who are approachable, who can keep in touch
This despondency might be one reason for the strange silence of the BJP
campaign. In all the passionate debates that take place around chai shops
in every village, kasba and town, the BJP seldom comes up for mention.
Mulayam's supporters are the most vocal this time around, but there are
enough voices rooting for Mayawati and much chatter about the electoral
significance, if any, of the "Rahul factor".
But the BJP, whose supporters normally dominate conversations at election
time, are not to be seen or heard. The chances of individual BJP
candidates are occasionally discussed but the party as a whole doesn't
BJP state president Surya Pratap Shahi insists that the "silent
undercurrent" is for the BJP and "with each phase of polling, we are
gaining in strength". If that is true, there is certainly no indication of
it on the ground where people remember the glory days of Vajpayee and rue
the current state of his party.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta