3 years

Election Results 2014

Verdict Day: Vignettes from BJP headquarters

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Through the morning and afternoon on Verdict Day, the scenes outside the BJP office resembled a mela.
On the morning of May 16th, Tekchand, an emaciated 48-year-old who puts up an ice cream cart at India Gate every evening made his way to 11, Ashoka Road to witness the frenzied celebrations outside BJP headquarters. On the white message board that was set up just opposite the gate, he slowly scrawled his name, all the while shying away from the cameras all around. The messages on the board were a paean to Modi, ‘You rock Modi’, ‘We love you Modi’, ‘Mission 272 accomplished’ Beauty of Democracy’. Someone had written ‘One Man Army’ on Modi’s cheek, it looked like a kiss. Tekchand is illiterate and the only word he knows to write is his own name. He voted for Modi because he believes Modi can get his children a better life. “I have been deprived of earning a decent living all my life. This is not for me, but for my children. Unko ab rozi roti milegi.” He shuffled away, without stopping for chai at the ‘Namo Tea Stall’ which had been set up just next to the whiteboard.

The Narendra Modi iconography that we have become exceedingly familiar with was seen everywhere at the BJP headquarters, a riot of colour, mostly saffron, a sea of people in Modi masks and posters bearing slogans, making for a striking contrast with the Congress office where all posters of the Gandhi family were pulled down. We Indians celebrate with colour and food, which were both symbolically missing from the Congress headquarters, the gardens had white tents for media, and no sign of party workers, the only people seen through the day were mediapersons, who grew increasingly disgruntled at the thought of all the food at the BJP office. “There is badaam milk and kaju barfi there I hear!”, said one photographer standing under the blistering sun, waiting for someone to finally address the press from the Gandhi family, so he could make his way back to the BJP office.

Back at the BJP office, it was at the ‘Namo Tea Stall’ the Modi iconography was the most visible. BJP workers cheerfully exhorted everyone to drink tea in the ‘Namo Chai’ branded cups, while chanting ‘Modi chai, Modi chai’. People stopped to take selfies at the chai stall. A BJP worker handed me a cup as I was passing. “How do you like it”, he asked. The tea leaves a pleasant aftertaste, not too sweet. I asked him what goes into Namo Chai? “Adrak, elaichi aur saare desh ka pyaar”, he replied. By noon six bhagonas (large vessels) of tea had been consumed. Next to the tea stall, at another stall, ladoos, biscuits and T-shirts with the message ‘Modi-fied India’ were being handed out.

Through the morning and afternoon on Verdict Day, the scenes outside the BJP office resembled a mela. Sohan Band and Jea Band were in full regalia playing the BJP victory anthem, “Acche Din Aane Wale Hai”, sometimes switching to current Bollywood hits like Baby Doll to vary the tempo. Loudspeakers amplified the sounds of firecrackers, dhols and conch shells. An estimated 3000 workers from the party were gathered. “Lag raha hai shaadi hai ghar pe”, said a woman party worker.

An entire contingent of tamasha artists from Kathputli Colony, which is currently facing the threat of demolition, performed through the day. Around noon, Rajesh Bhat, a 24-year-old street performer on stilts bent down to ask me, if BJP had cleared the majority mark? A giant LCD screen was flashing the results, but he could not read. He breathed a sigh of relief when informed of BJP’s victory. This time all of Kathputli Colony, which is made up largely of performers from Rajasthan and some from Gujarat, and has traditionally voted for Congress, voted en masse for BJP, in the hope that the new sarkaar will be able to save their homes.

Prakash, a nagada player showed me the blisters on his hands, as he took a ten minute break for lunch, eating puris and kachoris from the branded Modi boxes of food. Since seven in the morning, he and his group had not stopped playing for even a minute. “We will keep playing till evening. Umeed toh bani hai aaj.” Kishan Bharti, a 25-year-old rope-walker and fire eater from Maharashtra, was dressed as an adivasi and had spent the entire morning dancing. He believes Modi will change Delhi and turn it into Gujarat. His relatives in Gujarat have told him how slum dwellers have been given pakka houses and flats in high rises. He had seen images of Gujarat on television and talked of it as Shangri La. “We just want our houses to be safe. We have lived here for generations.” He has travelled twice to Russia, he informed me proudly. All the performers have enough work to sustain themselves, but they need a roof over their head. “Will you please make sure you convey our message to Modiji? Please make him read your article so he can save our homes.”

A mild diversion was caused by the entry of Modi lookalike Abhinandan Pathak. Dressed in a pink kurta, he walked with a group of people who were holding a Modi banner. He kept raising his arm to flash the victory sign. People stopped him to take pictures with him. It brought to mind the fake gladiators outside the Colosseum in Rome. But, this was a day for excesses and absurdities and posing next to a Modi lookalike was one more such moment. Suddenly, the attention turned from him to a bona fide celebrity, as Anupam Kher drove in, flashing what else, but the V for victory sign. Pathak found himself abandoned so I got the chance to corner him. A small time politician from Saharanpur, he has been having his moment for the past two years, ever since he discovered that he resembles “Modiji”. This election season, he decided to merge his political ambitions with that of the famous person he so resembles, as he trekked through Varanasi and Vadodara, campaigning for Modi. Pathak realises that for the next five years, he is assured of all the attention he craves. “Main Modi ka sipahi hun, jo captain aadesh dega, main woh karunga,” he said bombastically.

The crowds parted and the next diversion presented itself. With the number of cameras present, it was a day for everyone to out-perform each other. This time a man dressed as Ravana walked in surrounded by some BJP supporters who tell everyone that this Ravana used to fight for Anna Hazare and Aam Aadmi Party but he has now deflected to Modi. Anil Baloni is a durbaan at a hotel in Delhi. With his handlebar moustaches and imposing figure, he makes for a pretty convincing Ravana, although he never performs at nautankis. He only trots out the costume for political occasions. He gives an inspired speech to the crowds gathered around him and draws a huge round of applause, “Main bhrashtachaar ke khilaaf hun. Ab Ram Rajya aa gaya hai, aur mera ant ho jaayega.” He went on to outline the foreign policy that Modi should follow, to keep Pakistan and China in check and to gain respect from USA. He thinks Modi will be able to pull off miracles as long as “Sushma, Advani and Murli leave him alone”. Baloni was drenched with sweat under his layers of finery and jewellery. I asked him what he expected for himself from the government. He replied, as a poor man not much can be done for him, he will be satisfied if his country were to flourish.

Everyone had just a few moments to immortalise themselves in this frenetic day. B Kukreja, an 84-year-old frail man with a walking stick who has been a member of BJP for over fifty years, joined the dancing crowds, joyously waving his walking stick and shouting out to be heard, “World’s strongest leader is here.” The cameras panned towards him and the group of young men he was surrounded by. All these men, wearing ‘Modi for PM’ saffron caps, were from a residential society in Ghaziabad. Ratnadeep Chakravarty, a 30-year-old who works with an MNC in Delhi told me, that he has been giving his weekends for the past few months to mobilise support for Modi even though he is not party cadre, going from door to door mustering support, convincing people in his neighbourhood to vote for BJP. In the process, he lost half his salary on casual leaves taken for campaigning. He said his work is now done, it’s time for the new government to begin work, give us a better life and make sure we get returns for the taxes we pay.

Inside the grounds of the BJP office, something of a dance floor had come up besides a giant LCD screen that kept beaming images from news channels. Party workers waving flags were dancing to the BJP ‘Achhe Din’ song, played on a loop through the day at a deafening pitch. I found a young group of students who had come down from Bangalore to participate in what they called a “national festival”. They did not belong to the student wing of BJP as I suspected, they were all preparing to sit for the UPSC. They were eager to explain why they decided to vote for Modi, and 24-year-old Vikyaph Shetty and his friend Shreyanka Ranade drew me aside. They told me of the ‘Namo Brigade’, a group of young techie volunteers from the BJP who visited Bangalore University. “They convinced us by showing how Gujarat has changed. It wasn’t empty talk, it was backed by data. The youth needs to be inspired and we find that hope in Modi. We want India to be a power in the world and only he can unleash it,” said Shetty. “I’m sure you think I’m a communalist, this is what the media thinks. Everyone who votes for Congress is secular, and those who vote for Modi are communal. You portray him as Hitler. But, I think of him as the man who will change this country. Just like Obama made history by being elected as the first black president of USA, we have voted for a chaiwalla and made history.”