IT’S 8 am, and Ramesh Chauhan is winding down at a paan shop outside the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Railway Station, once famous as Mughalsarai, after a disappointing night on the platform as a porter. “This is not a job worth doing anymore. I went to the station at 8 pm and got my first load at 4 am. I am barely making ends meet. Stations have got elevators, suitcases have got wheels, who needs a porter anymore?” he asks.
The station falls in Chandauli constituency, adjacent to Varanasi from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is contesting the Lok Sabha polls. With both seats going to polls on May 19, Chauhan, despite his daily discontent, is clear about his vote. “Modi, who else? People will vote for the man who has got the country from seventh to fourth in the world,” he says.
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The 55-year-old is joined by Radheshyam Chauhan, a daily wage labourer who is struggling for work. “We have to make Modi win. Today, Italy, France, China and Israel have all been made to bow before India. Thankfully, there is Modi, otherwise they browbeat us.”
Both of them don’t have any details to back their claims, they don’t even know what rankings they are based on. But then, the perception that India’s international standing has vastly improved over the last five years is good enough to forget their personal woes and vote for Modi.
Rarely has a leader been able to package foreign policy for domestic electoral politics in the manner and scale that Modi has done. And constituencies across eastern UP echo this refrain that has found resonance across the country. With his frequent articulation of foreign engagements, big-ticket events with the Indian diaspora and emphasis on publicity, Modi seems to have convinced the electorate that India’s world standing has soared under his watch.
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“More than in India, people from abroad want to see him as Prime Minister,” says a voter in Azamgarh. The strikes against Pakistan appear to have further cemented this image. “Would anyone have been able to bring back Abhinandan Varthaman (the IAF officer who was captured by Pakistan during the face-off following the Balakot air strike)? Kulbhushan Jadhav (the former Naval officer) was incarcerated in Pakistan during the Congress time. The Congress could not bring him back,” says Jagdeesh Nishad, who sells sugarcane juice at the Ramgarh Lakefront in Gorakhpur.
Similar voices are heard in Ballia. Balmiki Ojha, a Brahmin from Phephana, says there is no point voting for the SP-BSP Gathbandhan since “they will go in different directions after coming to power”.
“In the state, one can think about them but at the Centre, we need someone who can go to other countries and talk about India. These guys will have to read out of a paper,” he says.
In Lalganj constituency’s Babura, the road leading to the village has not been repaired for months. Sudhu Rajbhar, a farmer, says he will still vote for Modi. “I have not seen a leader like Modiji. He has done so much work.” Asked to explain, he says, “He has got so many people stuck abroad back home. People keep saying he has spent public money to roam abroad but he has achieved something. Look at how the world is looking at India.”
In the constituency’s Retawa village, Ramesh Chouhan has a different take on India’s improved ranking. “India is more respected in the world now. From 13th, it has come to fourth spot. Give Modi five more years and we will climb to number one,” he says.
In Salempur’s Bhimpur Village, Ratnesh Gupta, 25, has a better ranking for India — third spot. “India had no place on the international table. Now it is at the third spot. Is this any less that you must ask about what development work has happened here? Modi is working for the country,” he says.
At Mau, in Ghosi constituency, a group of labourers wait for work at the Bhitti Chauraha. Jayraj Kumar, a Dalit contractor, says he is voting for Modi amid opposition from others in his community. “Don’t listen to them. I am educated and I can see how Modi has improved India’s standing in the world,” he says.
The contractor gets support from Suresh Kumar, a youngster who captures this phenomenon in one sentence: “You tell me, when PMs made foreign visits earlier, did anyone even come to know about them?”