Last week I went back to Jayapur. This is one of the villages that Narendra Modi adopted when he was elected from Varanasi. I was last here three years ago. It looked then just like the other squalid little villages that surround it. But, the main road was in the process of being paved. And, there was a new bank with an ATM. Outside the bank I met a young girl with blow-dried hair who said she had just completed her training as a beautician and asked if I could find her a job. She took my number and called me a couple of times but I was unable to help. Hopefully, someone else helped.
When I returned to Jayapur, the first thing I noticed was that the road is now pucca and a second bank has opened. The other thing I noticed was that compared to the villages I had driven through on my way from Varanasi, there were definite signs that Swachh Bharat had made an impact. No drains clogged with plastic. No rotting garbage.
The pradhan of Jayapur, Srinarain Patel, lives in a large two-storied house. When I asked what changes the village had seen since Modi adopted it, he said the village had been transformed. “We have two banks, a post-office, piped water in our homes, 22 hours of electricity, there are toilets in every house. But the journey of development is unending so we would now like to see more paved roads in the village.”
Later, I talked to other residents of Jayapur and can report that I did not hear the word Hindutva mentioned once. There is more Hindutva on Twitter than in rural India, and those who plan to vote for Modi again say that it is because he has delivered on ‘vikas’.
In the cities I have met many more people who feel let down by Modi. I have met very unhappy traders and small businessmen who have not fully recovered from the double shock of demonetisation and GST. But, in the words of a jeweller who was once an ardent Modi supporter, “I don’t want to vote for him this time because of the losses that my business has suffered in the past five years, but then I look at the alternatives and I think I might have to leave this country if one of those others come to power.”
There are many former believers in Modi who have lost faith in him, and their reasons for losing faith are economic. The World Bank may rank India as a country that has become one in which it is easier to do business, but on the ground this appears somehow to have got lost in translation. Luckily for Modi, even those who say they are disappointed with the absence of real change in their lives in the past five years, say that they feel compelled to vote for him because the alternative frightens them.
This is with the exception of Muslims. On my travels I have made it a point to seek them out, and to a man they believe that if Modi wins again, he will ensure that there is a Hindu Rashtra soon, in which they will live as inferior citizens. Last week, the BJP president appeared to confirm this by announcing plans to keep out Muslim ‘infiltrators’ and allow in only Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. When I tweeted that he should explain what he meant, I was attacked both by those who love Modi and those who hate him.
Twitter is the battlefield for Hindutva warriors and Hindutva haters. In the real India, what matters are economic issues. Indian voters, whatever their caste or creed, seem more economically aspirational than they ever have been in the past. This is a good thing. We might one day see an election in which caste and creed no longer matter.
What I personally found most reassuring is that I met nobody on my travels who believes that Hindutva is the reason for Modi’s popularity. It is easy in Delhi and Mumbai to be fooled by ‘intellectuals’ into believing that Hindutva is the only reason for Modi remaining popular, but travel outside these cloistered environs and another reality becomes evident. After the Balakot attack there was for a brief moment an upsurge in aggressive nationalism. This moment seems to have passed.
What is important for Modi to remember if he becomes prime minister again next month is that many of the good things he has done are forgotten because of the hate that some of his closest associates have been allowed to spread.
What he needs to remember also is that he himself once promised that he would be the leader of all Indians with his slogan of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. This is a promise that remains unfulfilled.
This article appeared in print under the headline, ‘An Election Diary’. Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh