AGRA/MATHURA: It is 7am and the heat is yet to hit Mathura. But with only six days left for polling, political tempers are up and searing.
A glance at the dingy tea stall, amid hordes of stray cattle, right at the entrance of the city tells the tale.
“Arey Modiji ka koi pratiyogi nahi (Modi has no competition),” says a middle-aged man to a skinny, betel-chewing boy. Not the one to take the opinion mildly, the boy retorts, “Modiji thodi na Mathura mein aake kaam karenge (Will Modi come and stay in Mathura)?” Yet Modi naam is a chant MPs need as many take their sitting MPs to be ‘useless’.
All talk in town gravitates towards the impending polls and caste and community equations, and opinions are divided. However, what unites them is anger towards their MP, actor-turned-politician Hema Malini.
“She must stick to movies. She does not understand poverty. But, Modi has done a lot for us,” 45-year-old Jat weaver Mukesh Kumar says, as his family of four nods in agreement. Mathura, a traditional Jat stronghold votes on April 18.
Mukesh’s wife Kiran Devi, also a weaver, does not agree. “Our MP is from the BJP. If she has not worked, how can we say BJP worked?” she retorts, adding, “None of the schemes Modi promised reached us. What do we do with temples? We have many here already.”
A kilometre away, near the birthplace of Lord Krishna, is the Muslim-dominated Manoharpura where a debate rages on whether Modi is good for India, or not.
“Hemaji has done well. Look at the roads. There is no water and electricity problem. Modi has taken the country to a new level. The only problem is Yogi Adityanath. He is best in an Ashram, not on the CM’s seat,” 35-year-old chicken shop owner Shagir Khan tells cousin Mohammad Abrar, 22.
Abrar is not convinced. “I am educated but have to run a chicken shop. Is this not the government’s fault that there is unemployment? It also does not help that the current government discriminates against Muslims. My community is against BJP,” he said.
Armed with a fresh BJP ticket, Hema is up against Mahesh Pathak of the Congress and Kunwar Narendra of the RLD in a triangular contest.
Driving into Agra, one is greeted with banners of SP-BSP-RLD candidate Manoj Kumar Soni and Congress candidate Preeta Harit, but none of the UP minister and BJP candidate SP Singh Baghel. “We don’t need to. They know him, trust him,” said a party worker.
Baghel is confident of his victory. “I have been a resident of Agra for 15 years and helped everyone, including Muslims. Around 45% of people have elected me thrice in the past”, he says.
SETTLED CHOICES IN AGRA
Unlike Mathura, Agra’s residents have candid views. Doctors, lawyers, traders and the common man, openly express their love for the Saffron, though many are yet unaware of the candidates in fray.
45-year-old Raman Koli, a Dalit nursing assistant in Fatehbad area said, “Whoever be the candidate, I’ll vote for the BJP, so will others from my community.” Pointing to another candidate’s hoarding, he asks, “Who knows him”?
Babli, a sweeper from Valmiki caste and mother of two said with a hint of smile, “I am uneducated but the Lotus will bloom.” Agra is often referred to as the centre of Dalit politics in UP with close to 1.9 lakh Jatavs and same number of Muslims.
Traders of Agra also seem to be with the BJP and it is not uncommon to hear the word ‘Modi’ every 10 seconds in the biggest footwear market of Agra, Sadar Bazar.
At Dawar Shoe Store, trade association president Jawahar Dawar claims, “Of 250 traders, over 65% are Muslims and happy with the BJP’s work”.
“It is here that the Balakot strikes have struck a chord with the public. Jobs are for us to get. The country comes first and no one takes care of it like Modi,” 33-year-old Saleem Khan says. Pointing towards the relatively clean road and a public toilet in the distance, he adds, “Who else could have done this?”
GST and demonetisation have also struck a chord with the traders.
“Both were absolutely necessary. Chor kam ho gaye hai ab (Thieves are less in number now),” Dawar said.
The enthusiasm in the party offices is also a tell-tale sign. While local BJP offices brim with enthusiasm, Opposition offices wear a desolate and dingy look.
BABBAR ‘SHER’ IN SIKRI
Fatehpur Sikri is a picture in contrast. Hoardings of Congress candidate and actor Raj Babbar adorn each bylane. People say, with Babbar in fray, Congress has revived its chances. The constituency is predominantly Muslim and also has pockets of Rajputs in its rural areas.
78-year old bearded welding shop owner Haji Anwar says without prompting, “Fatehpur Sikri is going the Congress way. Had it not been for Babbar, the Congress would have stood no chance here,” he says as a lanky 40-year-old Gabbar Shahi, a vegetable vendor and Moumin Anwar (45) break into slogans of Congress Zindabad.
Hearing them, a part time textile merchant-cum-marriage contractor Kale says, “Just look around. There is widespread unemployment and hunger. Is this Sabka Vikas?”
In Nagar village, labourer Hari Singh and his ‘tooth- fixing’ wife Meena sit and gaze into the distance. They belong to Sisodia caste and are Rajputs.
Singh claims, demonetization hit him so hard that he can barely earn enough to feed his family.
His wife’s ‘tooth fixing’ business is also in tatters.
“I used to be a staunch BJP supporter. Not now”.
“Surgical strikes are fine but we need to feed ourselves,” he says.
His wife Meena says, “Babbar sahib hi kuch kar sakenge humara (Only Babbar can do something for us).”