Updated: April 5, 2019 6:37:52 pm
Kela Devi doesn’t know her exact age. “I have voted for Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav, does that tell you how old I am?” she asks, flashing a toothless smile. The septuagenarian resident of Deoband town in Western Uttar Pradesh left home at 7 am to attend the Saharanpur rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
The woman wants just one answer. “I have no complaints, I just want one answer. When will they start our pension scheme?” she asks, referring to the recently announced pension scheme for people from the organised and unorganised sectors. The 40-km ride from Deoband to the venue of the rally was “harrowing” for Kela Devi.
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“We were packed into Toto (electric auto). And it was so hot. I haven’t eaten anything since morning,” she says.
It’s 1 pm and the Prime Minister is scheduled to address the crowd “around 2pm”. The dusty field in the outskirts of Saharanpur has been carpeted and canopied for the benefit of thousands who have thronged from nearby towns and states (Saharanpur is close to both Haryana and Uttarakhand).
Pouches of water is being generously handed out by BJP karyakratas sporting saffron kurtas and t-shirts. Chants of “Bharat mata ki Jai”, “Har Har Modi!”, “Phir ek baar, Modi sarkaar” erupt every now and then with varying degrees of vigour.
The air is thick with anticipation and dust. Kela Devi takes out a Modi mask and starts fanning herself. “The thing is, we don’t have a choice apart from him. For years we have been cheated by other governments,” she says.
Dhiraj Singh, a farmer from Alampur, echoes the sentiment. “It’s important to have faith in someone who is ambitious. He has delivered on most of his promises,” says the 42-year-old, who is sporting a saffron Nehru cap.
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Where did he get it from? “It’s not a Nehru cap, it’s a BJP cap,” he says empathetically.
Apparently, the local karykarta had supplied him with a rally kit before they set out for their venue in a bus. The kit comprised a “Modi cap”, a BJP flag, a Modi mask and a cut-out declaring “main bhi chowkidaar”.
The sugarcane farmer whose family owned acres of land, now works for other people. “My grandfather owned a lot of land. But then sugar cane farming wasn’t that lucrative. He fell in debt. Now I have no land in my name,” says Singh.
A few places away, 50-year-old Rajesh Kumar Sharma is unsuccessfully trying to lead a chant. “Pradhanmantri kaisa ho? Narendra Modi jaisa ho!” He goads the people around to repeat after him. The response is feeble at best. The crowd seems to be taken in by the simplistic appeal of the “Modi! Modi! Modi!” chant.
“I firmly believe Modiji is a reincarnation of Krishna. I call him the Kanhaiya of Gujarat,” says Sharma, who is an RSS sevak from Deoband.
Eighteen-year-old Divya Kumari, of Saharanpur town, is here to attend the rally simply because she wanted to see a “celebrity” in person. “I have seen him only in TV. I have never seen anyone who has appeared on TV in person. This will be a first. He is, after, the most important person of the country and he is in my town. This is a historic occasion,” says Divya.
Hamid Khan, 21, one of the very few Muslim faces we encounter in the rally, doesn’t bother himself with the historic significance (or the lack of it) of the rally. He is here to pick up crushed bottles and plastic bags. He is snaking his way through the churning crowd and he has little time for chit chat. ” A Modi rally means more money for us because there will be a bigger turnout. I hope to at least make around Rs 500 today,” says the resident of nearby Rampur town.
Suddenly, even the nonchalant Hamid looks up. A screaming silence envelops the field. The mechanical roar of the helicopter blade rips the air. The crowd starts yelling his name in tandem. “Modi! Modi!” The man has arrived.
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